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EPISODE 71: Something More

Former skeptic Neil Placer was apathetic about the question of God until his own dissatisfaction in life led him to search for something more.

Neil's Resources:

  • Podcast: A World in Tension -This podcast explores the universal struggles of life. Externally, we encounter conflict with others. Internally, we engage in a constant debate between our hearts and minds.

Listen to more stories from skeptics and atheists who investigated Christianity.

Brought to you by the C.S. Lewis Institute and Side B Stories:

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. We welcome your comments on our Side B Stories Facebook page about these episodes, and you can also email us directly at [email protected]. We always love to hear your comments.

As a reminder, our guests not only tell their stories, but at the end of each episode, these former atheists and skeptics give advice to curious seekers as to how they can best pursue the truth and reality of God. They also give advice to Christians as to how best to engage with those who don't believe. I hope you're listening to the end to hear them speak from their wisdom and experience as someone who has once been a skeptic but who is now a believer. Also, please know that many of these former skeptics and atheists have made themselves available to talk with anyone who has questions about God or faith. If that's you, just please connect with us at our email at [email protected], and we’ll get you connected.

If there's something common to us all, it's that we want a life of meaning and purpose, to know and be known, to love and be loved. We want a life that feels important because it is important. It is valuable. The inevitable question before us though is how do we find that kind of love, that kind of life, that kind of meaning and value? Can it be found on our own in a world without God? Or do we need to look beyond ourselves to find what our hearts truly long for? C.S. Lewis is a former atheist who recognized the important difference that it makes to live with and without God. He knew that if God was real and Christianity was true, there was nothing more important than that, saying, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” In other words, God makes all the difference in the way that we can and do experience and see life. For those who believe, it should mean everything.

In today's story, former atheist Neil Placer moved from being completely apathetic about the question of God to now holding Him as of infinite importance. How in the world did that happen? I hope you'll come along to find out.

Welcome to Side B Stories, Neil. It’s great to have you with me today.

Thanks, Jana. It's great to be here.

Wonderful. Tell us a little bit about yourself, so the listeners have an idea of who you are before we get into your story.

Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Neil Placer. I'm 46 years old. I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I'm trained as an engineer, so I'm a mechanical engineer, but I would say that I'm probably an atypical engineer, in the sense that, well, number 1, I like communication. Although I consider myself an introvert, I do like to communicate. I do like to think deeply about things and really communicate those truths to others. So yeah. I've just always been someone who likes to consider topics, and part of what we're going to talk about is how I came to faith and how that was a bit of a journey for me, very analytical, yet also leaps of faith.

That sounds intriguing, Neil. Why don't you start us back at your story, at the very beginning. Tell us about where you were raised. Were you always from Tennessee? Tell us about your family. Was religion or God or church any part of your family life?

Yeah. So I think if people are tuning in from Tennessee, they'll pick me out instantly and say, “That guy's not from Tennessee.” So I actually grew up in the DC area, which is kind of the international, cosmopolitan land where there really isn't an accent. So Northerners think I'm a Southerner, and the Southerners think I'm in Northerner, so I can't win. But, yeah, I grew up in the DC area.

My father was Spanish. I say, was; he recently passed away. So his background, being from Spain. If you're not familiar with that, you're basically born Catholic, right? It's just part of the culture. Everyone kind of just connects themself to it, but from a spiritual perspective, that really didn't mean much. So they took us when we were kids to Mass, and we participated. I think they wanted the influence of it, but sooner or later, as my brother and I were getting older, we kind of became like Easter and Christmas Christians, if you will, right? So we just showed up for the major events. And they were… it was more like an event, so there wasn't really a strong focus on that, even though there was a religious component to my life.

Okay. So it was just part of the tradition or ritual, I suppose, of your family. It was something you did, not necessarily, I presume, something you've believed? Or did you have any kind of a tacit belief in God because this was part of your life?

No. I mean, I didn't really think about it much. I was thinking about this. I didn't really have… Growing up middle class, upper middle class, I didn't have a need for God, right? I had everything that I wanted materially. My parents kind of let the rope out pretty long, so I felt like I could do whatever I wanted. I was an athlete. I played soccer. So I just felt like I didn't… that was kind of for a goody goodies. And I was, by definition, truly just agnostic. Like I didn't care. I wasn't an atheist. I wasn't against it. I just didn't care. I didn't detect any need for it in my life.

Yeah. So just, I guess, what they might call apatheism, right?

Yes.

Yeah. You just don't care. It wasn't important to you. You obviously didn't need it. So, was this the case throughout your growing up years? It sounds like you were very occupied, had a great family, great life. And did you have any touch points at all of what you would consider to be authentic Christianity in your world?

Yeah, it's funny how, when you reflect back in the past, you kind of see where God was working. So I think the first moment was, my senior year of high school, I remember going back to the Catholic church on my own. So my parents weren't going, my brother wasn't going, but I wanted to just kind of explore. Instead of being the kid that just sat through it and said, “When is this over?” I wanted to actually seek. “What are they talking about? Is this a viable pathway of life?” My parents didn't even understand it. They said, “Are you going to impress some girl?” like, “What are you going for?” But I just said, “I just want to find out. What are they saying?” And I did that for a little while, and my conclusion, and I think it was a shallow search to be fair, was, “Yeah, this isn't really for me. Now I've actually listened to it with open ears, and yeah, this is not for me.” But that was kind of the first moment of considering something outside of myself.

What made you… I'm just curious. What sparked that curiosity? Was it some kind of dissatisfaction in your life? Was it just some intellectual curiosity? Or something that your friends were doing? Or it just kind of came from nowhere?

I honestly don't know. I mean, of the categories you just gave, I think probably intellectual curiosity was probably the answer. Other people were not doing it. I don't think there was some major gap. I think I was just curious. I've always been a curious type and willing to explore things, even if the crowd's not doing it. So, again, I think looking back, I think God was working on me. I just didn't realize it that way. So I don't really have a great answer.

No. That's fine. Sometimes we just do things without real, deep thoughtful considerations to something we're motivated to do. I'm also curious. You went to go see what it was, and you felt like it wasn't for you. What did you think religion was at that point? You knew it wasn't for you, but what was it, did you think? Was it just a place where people gathered. They needed community. What was it, did you think?

Being that it was Catholic, I thought it was very ritualistic, right? So it was just very, you know, up and down, knees. Liturgies, there was a lot of formality to it. But in the end, I just kind of thought it was empty. I just felt like people were going through the motions, checking the boxes for whatever reason, to make themselves feel good. I mean, it's kind of connected to my background. Like, why did we go as a family? I don't know. It’s just because that's what we did. That was the culture, right? So that was my conclusion. It just kind of felt a little bit empty, although, again, I'll say my search was shallow. I don't know that I was on a truly deep search at that point.

Okay, okay. So you tried it as a high schooler, which is admirable. Before you went to college. And so walk us on from there. How did your life look? Then you left high school, went on to university, and what happened?

Yeah. So my first year of school… so I played soccer in college. I went to Virginia Tech. And I would categorize my life, my first year of school, as kind of living in the joy of sin. And now that sounds funny to say. But like I really… I enjoyed the sin, right? I felt like I had all things going for me, right? I was studying engineering, so I was doing things hard with my mind. I was an athlete, so I was working my physical self. And I was also partying, so like I had all elements, I thought. And so I enjoyed sin. But the thing is sin has a season. Sin has an ending, because sin's pathway is alluring at first, but as Scripture says, it's sweet in the mouth, but then it's bitter in the stomach. And sometimes that bitter takes a while to realize. So I would say I really… I'm not going to say sin isn't fun. That's why people do it, right?

Right.

But I think that whole freshman year was kind of like that. And then, after that, I started to realize…. I didn't make the soccer team the next year. School was much… the first time I struggled with school. Like, “Maybe I'm not as smart as I think I am.” The whole partying scene became empty and old. “What what am I doing? What's the point?” So I would say after that was really the journey of struggle of, “What am I here for?” So God kind of pulled it apart. But I'm kind of saying it that way because there's people that just don't want religion because they think it's oppressive or it's going to wreck their lifestyle. But I would say, “What is this lifestyle that feels free and sinful really giving you?” Because, at the end, it doesn't give you much.

So you were feeling empty and spent and challenged, and life wasn't as pristine, I guess, as it had been prior. There were challenges coming in your path. So it caused you to introspect, I guess. And I think sometimes those difficulties are disruptors that cause us to step back and take a look at our own life, the way that we think, the way that we live. And so what did that disconcertion or tension or challenge do for you in terms of what were your next steps?

Well, it got me thinking and wrestling with things. I mean, I said earlier I'm kind of an introvert, and in terms of, like, to recharge, I need to go off to the side, and I need to think. So I just thought about topics, and, like, “What am I here for?” I mean, college is just kind of a good season for that because there's a bunch of people around you also that are going through that. And I don't remember all the bumps and turns, but I do remember concluding that it must be about love, right? All this other stuff is superficial. So it must be about love. And in the context of no God, then that means a human relationship, right? Like another person, that must be kind of…. The holy grail of happiness is that, which involves also kind of a, “It's not just about you. To make a relationship work. You have to mutually bring that joy and benefit to one another,” so that's kind of where I landed after sort of years of struggling through it.

And guess what? Surprise, surprise. That pathway became empty, too, right? There were some relationships that you thought would be going in a good way and they didn't. And so it was at that moment—and this is just to kind of walk you through the timeline. So freshman year was all about fun. Then, I would say it was closer to… I did 5 years of school because I was an engineer, and we did a co-op, so it's just kind of built into the program, but it was right around kind of that senior year or right before it that I just kind of said, “Okay, relationships don't work either.”

So now I don't know. Now I'm like… I'm really lost. I don't know what the answer is. And I'm about to graduate. And I'm about to get some job. And I kind of, for the first time, maybe categorized it as hopeless in terms of a deep meaning of life. I could have gone and done the job and done what everyone else does, but that was the moment where it was just like, “All right. I don't know what the answer is.”

So I guess you knew that religion, at the time, wasn't for you, prior to all of this. And you understood…. Did you, I guess, understand the logical [17:00] implications of atheism, that it does not bring objective meaning? I mean, were you that thoughtful about it? Or was this just something you were experiencing because you were just doing life without God?

Yeah, no. I wasn't thinking about sort of those apologetic arguments about atheism at all.  v And I think that's where the story gets interesting about that's where God's hand is… like God's hand was always working, maybe more subtly. We don't know how God works, but He kind of lets you get to a place where you're ready. And I feel like, at that point, I was ready. And then He really started to press in, and again, I think the story becomes interesting there.

Yes. I've heard it said. Well Os Guinness said, actually, “When someone becomes dissatisfied with their own worldview then they become open towards another.” And it sounds like you reached that point of dissatisfaction, so that you became willing or open to see, “Is there something more than this flat immanent frame,” I guess, as Charles Taylor would say. Is there something more? Or is there something more that I'm missing? I guess you felt that kind of earnest need or that angst in a sense. So what did you do with that dissatisfaction? Again, it sounds like you were willing to look for something more. What did you do?

Yes. So like I was saying, it got interesting. There were kind of three distinct people in my life. So I had my friend John, who I went to high school with, that he actually was kind of a professing Christian in high school, and then once he got to college, he kind of fell away from it. So I had him in the circle, this buddy who kind of knew faith and now doesn't have faith. So he kind of becomes more important at the end. But then there were two other people, and they were both ladies on the soccer team. So one was just a good friend of mine. And ironically, believe it or not, her name was Trinity. Now, she wasn't a believer, but what was really interesting about our relationship is that we both reached this point that, as friends, we were pushing each other towards faith, and we didn't believe it.

So I'll give you an example of just kind of one of these moments: I love these pause moments that God gives us to kind of just reflect. So we're out to breakfast, and again, I told you I studied engineering. It's a lot of work, a lot of reading, a lot of homework, and so we're talking about faith and religion, and she said, “You know, maybe we should pick up the Bible every once in a while and read it.” I said, “Look, I don't have time to read the Bible. I have all these tests. There’s no space for it.” And she said something that was profound. Again, she's not a believer. She said, “Well, if you think about it, if God is really true, then there's nothing more important than knowing about Him and you do that by reading this book,” like nothing else matters. What else is worth as much devotion of your time? And I just kind of thought about that and said, “It’s kind of weird that you're saying that because you don't really believe this, but number two, you're right. Like, just from a logical perspective, if that's true, you're absolutely right about that.” So it was kind of moments like that where God was working or like other times when…. And we started to go to church. And so mornings where, like, I'd call and say, “Hey, are you going to church?” “No. No. No. I'm not going.” “Come on. Let’s go. Let's go.” We were pushing each other. And so, like I was saying, God was really working. So-

Wow!

That was a key element. And then the third person is another girl named Kara, which I was more of an acquaintance with, but she was actually a firm believer in faith. And so what was unique about her is she… you could see something different. So there was a smile on the face. There was a joy. But not only that, there was…. We’d go out and play soccer together, and her work ethic was different. I remember going, “Why is no one else trying except for her?” And it was just kind of a fun game. But she demonstrated something different about Christ. So think about that. You have this guy that kind of fell away involved. You have someone who's challenging you who's not a believer, and then someone who really is a believer, all kind of in the picture together, kind of working at the same time. And I remember going to a church service, and my eyes were still blind. They kind of gave that classic picture of like you have the two cliffs, and the only thing that can split the divide is the cross splitting in between. You probably heard that at some point, right?

Mm-hm. 

And so they're, like, giving this clear gospel message. And I remember Kara looking over at me and going, “This just doesn't get more clear than this and, they were like ‘what do you think about the message?’” And I was like, “Oh, it was great. Loved it!” But I had no clue. It went over my head. I had no clue what actually was going on, so it was really interesting. My eyes were starting to open, but they had not been fully opened at that point.

So, for those who are listening who may not be familiar with that reference that you're speaking of, the sermon reference, can you explain that a little bit more and what that means, what the gospel means?

Yeah. So imagine there's kind of two big cliffs, and basically, what it's trying to say is that our sin separates us from God, and we can't ever cross that chasm. There's nothing we can do on our own power, but that there's a clear separation. And the only thing that can split that divide, or really fill that divide, and they drop a cross in there, is the cross of Christ. Which that’s not about the cross. It's about the fact… not the cross itself. It’s Jesus. It's the fact that Jesus paid the cost for our sins and basically became a mediator for us to God the Father, who is going to judge us for our sins. So that cross allows you that pathway. So it's basically saying you need Jesus to become your Lord and Savior, and He is the way to get there. So again, it's a very clear like, in that service, “Hey! You, Neil, need to surrender to Christ,” but I thought it was a great message, but didn't get that I needed to do that.

That it wasn't for you, but evidently Trinity was being taken in by this message. Was it something she responded to at the time?

So, well, let's…. She and I, we actually…. Let me finish the story, and I'll tell you about it. She and I actually came to faith at the same time.

Okay.

And so where this all led to was actually a moment in time where I gave my life to Christ. And so let me just give you the build-up. It was like an exam week, and so I was really busy. And Kara and my buddy John were actually going to go to this Fellowship of Christian Athletes retreat. It was a few hours up the road. And they said, “Hey, you want to come?” And I was like, “Look, I just can't think about this. I need to focus on my tests.” So it's literally Friday. I've finished my last exam, and I'm driving home, driving to my apartment at school. And I'm thinking, “Well, I could spend another week here and kind of just go downtown and drink and do whatever else I was going to do, that I’d done over and over, and it's getting old. Or I could go hang out with these wacky Christians.” And I thought they were kind of wacky. I mean, at that point, I'm like… And I was always up for a new experience. I was like, “You know, what do I have to lose?” Right? So I called them, and they were literally about to go. I said, “Look. Do you still have room for me to come tag along with you guys?” And they're like, “Yes, absolutely,” especially Kara, who was the firm believer. She's like, “Yes. Yes.” And I think Trinity had already decided she was going to go.

So anyway, we get there, and that was the moment where I had really never exposed myself. It was like a little world of Christianity, right? Everyone there was a Christian. There was no one like… I was surrounded by something I've never been surrounded in. So I was just kind of like this foreigner, right, in this town of Christianity. I was an outsider. And so you participate in all these Bible studies, and I'm just listening the whole time, because I have nothing to add. I have no clue what they're talking about. But I'm-

[27:08] Can I interrupt you for a moment? Obviously, so Bible studies, and you had mentioned that Trinity thought that reading the Bible would be the most important thing if God was real or true. Had you read the Bible prior to coming to the retreat? Did you take that as an invitation and start reading with Trinity before any of this?

Maybe we were reading a little bit, but not too intently.

Okay. So the whole thing with the Bible was a little bit intimidating or you hadn't really gone there yet. Okay.

Yeah. And I remember I was carrying around, now that you mention that, like some old seventies Bible, and the people at the retreat were like, “What are you? What are you carrying? What is that thing?” Because they didn't know what my what my story was, right? I think they just assumed that I was some Christian, too, right? Because I wasn't sharing anything. I was just listening to what they had to say, and it really just kind of blew my mind to see something different, that people were living for something purposeful. And again, God was then really, really working on me. And so the end of the story is, like, at the end of the weekend—and the speaker was some…. It’s the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, so they usually have some sort of athlete. But he was actually some kickboxer, professional kickboxer. And at the end of the weekend, he said, “Does anyone want to give their life to Christ?” the classic sort of altar call, if you will. But I remember that moment, like, everyone's eyes are closed, and it's like just raise your hand, and I remember that there was this war inside me like, “No! You can't do this. You can't do this. You're going to give up all the things you like.” There was this war. But at the end, I just stuck my hand up. And that was the moment. I really did give my life to Christ. And what's cool is…. It’s just so funny. I think God has this kind of cool, humorous, awesome way of working. That was Valentine's Day weekend, so my search for love, right? Like, He gave me love on Valentine's Day weekend.

Yes! Yes!

So I'll always have this marker there of that conversion. And I remember, at the end, they're kind of sitting in the circles, and they're like, “So, what did you think about the weekend?” And everyone's kind of like, “Ehh, normal weekend. Okay,” and I'm like… the first time I spoke. I’m like, “I think I just gave my life to Christ. I'm not even sure what this really means. But I just did it.” And one guy there, who I'm actually still friends with today, had the wisdom to say, “Number one, that's awesome. Number two, come get plugged in.” Like, here’s the FCA president or soon-to-be president at that time. He said, “Come get plugged in. Come join the community.” Very, very wise and good advice.

Wow. So I'm sitting here thinking you were someone who didn't care about God growing up. It became an issue that you actually started caring about, that there had to be something more in life, and then you found that something more in the person of God and Jesus and that He’s worth it. And you found, in a sense, the love that you had been longing for and searching for, and I presume the meaning that comes along with that. It sounds like you felt there was this internal wrestling and this battle of kind of laying down your own life for being part of a grander story. At any point, did you question or doubt, is this really true? Or does it just sound like a good story? Something that I can give my life to?

Yeah. So what was really cool about my conversion experience is that I think it was really out of character. What I mean by that is I'm a pretty analytical person. I think when I was giving my testimony at college, I’m just remembering this now, when I actually got baptized at the church at school, I said, As an engineer, you have these…. There's this green graph paper that we used. And it's like, “given,” “find,” “assumptions,” and then it's like, at the end, you double underline the answer. And so I wanted that sequence with Jesus Christ double underlined, but I kind of just jumped right to the end, and so it was very much a leap of faith for a very analytical person. And I think the impact of that is that I describe it as kind of Jesus… Or like being held by a father, like a baby being held, because I literally had no real Christian knowledge, no Christian experience to lean on, not even people. I was just getting…. There was nothing. And so, I viewed it like I was being held like a baby, like you do everything for the baby. I was just on cloud nine. I was loving it, so there wasn't really a period up front of me kind of doubting what did I just do, because I was experiencing something amazing. And the people around me even, they said stuff like, “Your face looks different,” which… The Bible talks about your countenance, right? They’re like, “You literally look different.” Like, instead of a grimace or weight, you have a smile. So people even saw what I was experiencing. So what’s cool about that, Jana, is that not everyone has…. I don't think everyone needs to have that story. Like for my kids, I’m like, “You don't have to go through a lot of chaos. You really don't have to.” But the good thing about that is like I'll always know, pointing back, what happened, and no matter what argument anyone throws at me, if there's ever seasons of doubt, something miraculous happened, and I cannot deny it. It's undeniable. And others saw it, too. I didn't just make it up in my head.

Right.

So I remember coming back and my roommates, nonbelievers, they were like, “So did you find Jesus?” like as a joke? And I'm like, “I think I did.” And then they got freaked out like, “Oh, my gosh! What does this mean?”

Yeah. Exactly. I mean, that is the question. What does that mean? What did that mean for your life? I mean, you were, in a sense, a meaningless empty existence. So what did knowing Jesus, having Jesus, mean for your life?

I mean, it ultimately over time, you realize what it does, or what the value of it is, or just kind of… And I got off cloud nine, right? Eventually, you realize, “Oh, wait. Life is actually tough,” and this isn't a straightforward… it’s not just like a…. Christianity is actually not an easy path. I mean, Christ says that not if we will face struggle, but when, right? There is struggle. There’s tension. It's just part of it. But I think, to answer your question, Christ talks about building upon a firm foundation, not on top of sand. And I think that's really real practically. No matter how tough life may be. Sometimes I’ve felt like all areas are not working well, right? Like my relationship with my wife, my work, my friendships, my church environment. I can feel like all those things are not working well for whatever reason at a given moment in time. Yet I always have this security to know, “Wait, but I'm sealed in Christ. I know what my ultimate destiny is, and I know that He is seeking to bring me comfort and peace and joy and that I can rest in the confidence of what He did.” It’s not just experiential, but there's historical validity and logical validity. That rock matters for me to stand on, to have that foundation. So I've realized that over time. But to think about not having that and where I was before, that chaos is really scary and really sad and empty, and I would never want to return there again.

So you went from this really miraculous experience, which I don't doubt at all. I know that so many people have had just a real touch point with God that is life transforming, and they know it's true and real. Now you speak of building a foundation that's historical and logical, and as an analytical person, could you flesh that out a little bit? What does that foundation look like in terms of… even though your mind wasn't perhaps a deep part of the journeying of accepting Christ, but it sounds like there is a foundation where you love Him with your mind as well as your life. What does that look like?

Yeah. And that's actually really important to me, Jana. I think Christianity cannot just be about the experience. Obviously. So what I'd say is, God created our brains and also our hearts, so the experience and the emotion matters. Absolutely. But God also gave us brains to think. I think sometimes, as Christians, we take an approach of just kind of acceptance of the truth without wrestling it. And so then when you're challenged, you don't know what to say. And I think that's a very bad…. Well, scripture urges us not to live life that way. In any season, you should be ready to defend your faith and have an answer.

I mean, I think there's just a few, like if I'm talking to someone who maybe is questioning what to believe. There’s kind of a few… I call them high-level apologetics, because apologetics can get very deep and wrestling with specific issues. But if you just, first of all, just look around you, look at creation, look at the human body. There are so many examples of just wonder and how you have to think that that all kind of just came out of nothing is really illogical. It really doesn't make sense. And I think that… I mean Romans 1 tells us that that's proof enough, that we are without excuse in just seeing creation. And creation really… I like hiking, so that really does it for me, like, seeing and just… you can't even take it in, right? Anyway, so that is a really, to me, solid argument in itself.

But beyond that, the evidence of it. If you go back and explore… I mean The Case for Christ is a great book where that whole story of Lee Strobel as a journalist kind of exploring the facts. But the validity, the historical validity, of the Bible is unquestioned compared to other historical texts. The fact that Christ came, was a man, did miracles, he died, he was resurrected, is all historically validated more than most any other source. And the connection of all that, the history, what we see now, what I experience, it all makes sense and logically touches all of the pieces of what we experience as human beings. And one interesting thought that I've had about that, Jana, is sort of like we have an enemy working against us, right? And just kind of as a matter of another apologetic, if you compare Christianity to any other spiritual system, every other spiritual system is about works. You have to do something to be good in the eyes of that god. Christianity flips it on its head and says, “Actually, you're saved by grace. You need a savior, and there's nothing you can do on your own.”

And so the thought exercise I went down on that one is like, “Why does our spiritual enemy not try to throw at us a counterfeit kind of grace argument?” Like a religion or something that was a grace alternative, because there aren't really that many grace alternatives, if you study them, and what I think I concluded is that that's how it all comes together, is that you can't create a duplicate for what Christ did. You can't duplicate a man coming, doing miracles, dying, resurrecting, seeing Him again. You can't replicate the amazing story. So it's combining history. It's combining the emotion of what people saw in those miracles and the resurrection. Imagine seeing a resurrected man! And how that connects to the Creator of the universe. You can't duplicate it, and so I think the enemy doesn't even try.

Yeah. So it sounds like it's just really fully orbed with you. It's your emotion. It's experience. It's your spirituality. It's your mind. It's actually how you're living your life. I'm curious, too. You said there were three key people in your life, in your story, as God was really pointing you or bringing you to Himself, and I'd love to tie a bow on some of those, because you mentioned the friend who was a Christian, left Christianity, but you said came back, and we haven't heard that bit of it, nor have we heard of Trinity and how she became, I guess, a friend in Christ as well. So talk to us about that.

Yeah. I’m glad you brought that up, so John actually recommitted his life to Christ that same weekend. And really did. He really started walking a new path. And what's really neat about that is he and I are still friends today. Our wives actually were roommates at one point, which is even a funny connection. Our kids know each other and like each other. So we actually visit them annually. So it's a really kind of cool connection, how He brought us together on that one.

Trinity, I actually have lost touch with her, but sadly enough, I think she kind of walked away from the faith. And I don't know if she ever returned. She did give her life to Christ, and that's when you kind of ask herself, “Did she really? Did she not?” So I think she struggled. It was kind of your question earlier. I think, after that experience, for her, I think she really started to question. I think it was kind of in connection to her family, and they didn't believe, and what were the consequences of that? So I hope she returned to faith. I hope it was a true conversion, but I don't know.

And similarly with Kara, I've lost touch with her, but yeah, God just used those different pieces together. So it's just a really, really great story.

That is great! It sounds like…. Your story has such a beautiful kind of story arc, in the sense that you were just dismissive of God. It was just not something you were interested in, not anything that you needed, and then you've had a felt need and an earnest search. I mean, it was earnest in the sense that you were willing to actually go where God was leading you, and then you found Him. You found what you were looking for. And it sounds like it's made an enormous change in your life, and for the better. You mentioned something about coming out of chaos. And I presume that you've moved towards shalom. From disorder to order. From restlessness to peace. It reminds me of Augustine, where our souls are restless until we find our rest in Him. And it sounds like you have found that and then some. I just really appreciate that.

As we're thinking about those who maybe, like you were, maybe a little restless, maybe a little dissatisfied, unsure of where to go or look for something more. How could you speak to someone like that, who might be willing to take a look at what God has to offer? Where would they go? What would you recommend?

Yes. So I mean the first thing I'd say is don't discount faith in Christ for some fuzzy soft reason, like not thought out reason, like just because someone said Christians are losers, and maybe you just held on to that simple…. Or they’re goody goodies. I held on to some simple, “That’s not for me.” Don't hold on to that. Or equally, I think sometimes I've encountered people that have some hurt because of some Christian connection. Someone did something, and it's pushed them away. And so now they will never go back because that hurt. I would encourage people to press through that, because the hurt isn't the truth. Truth is truth. And I believe Christ is it. And so if you are open to explore it…. Basically, don't push yourself away for either superficial reasons or even deep hurts. Press in anyway, and I think if you are, Christ is faithful to kind of… If you knock, he will open it. He will answer. He’ll show you the pathway.

And the second thing I'd also say is, like… I kind of touched on, I think, on again, some high-level apologetics for people to consider that I think are valid. But then I'd also say, flip…. Instead of pointing the finger at Christianity, why don’t you point the finger at what you believe and say, “Does it have merit? Is it delivering in my practical life?” To what you just said, “Is it really bringing peace?” Be honest with yourself. Don’t just cast stones. And don't judge other systems, especially ones you haven't explored, but ask yourself about yours. Because I think you will find that there's again, like, you were talking about atheism. If you're a true atheist, you have to believe that there is no sort of system of right or wrong, law and order, of meaning for people, so we're basically… I could shoot you right now, and that doesn't really mean much, right? Because who says that that's right or wrong? And you have no value, and I don't have value. Question the impact of what that does to your thinking and your emotions and how to live. That messes you up. That's not a healthy place to live, so really question that. And explore and find…. Obviously, you can dig into the scripture whenever you want. And I think if you do that, honestly, God will work with you. But also just try to find… try praying for someone, some authentic Christian to come into your life that can help lovingly guide you through and answer your questions, because, again, I think if you pray, you start to knock and open that door. Even though you feel uncomfortable, I think God will work.

Yeah. That's all really, really wonderful. If someone does open scripture or the Bible, do you have a place that you would recommend them to start? Because I know that the Bible can be rather intimidating at 66 books. So where would one start?

There's probably different answers for different people, on types of wiring, but first I’ll say that the Old Testament is probably a hard place. There are some parts of that that seem dry or are hard to understand, although the exception to that is Genesis. I think I the beginning especially of Genesis is pretty awesome for kind of setting up how things originated and where we go. So I think that's important. I think if someone is kind of more emotionally inclined, like kind of that artistic and singer like, Psalms has a lot of emotional wrestling that is authentic and real that people could get into. Proverbs if you're kind of intellectually wired. It has a lot of good logical argument of how to live life and challenge yourself. In fact, that's what I actually prayed when I first became a believer was, “God, I know nothing; help make me wise. I want wisdom. I need something,” and I spent some time in Proverbs. Ecclesiastes. I love the book of Ecclesiastes! Some people hate that book because it feels too open ended, but it just kind of tells you life is a vapor. Everything you can pursue is kind of meaningless outside of God. It's a great searching book. But I mean, then coming to the New Testament, obviously, I think a place where to lead people is natural is like the four gospel accounts or the first four books of the New Testament; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John really help you to understand the story of Jesus, what happened, His work with the disciples, and then obviously His death, burial, and resurrection.

So I mean, there's so many good places. But those are some things I'd say. Look into it. And just be patient with yourself. You can't fully grasp God. You never will but just be patient with your questions. Some questions I still don't know the answers to, but I'm patient with it and believe in it. So just kind of trust the process. Don’t try to get everything answered in the first day, first week, but open yourself to what God can teach you and start trying to pray. Praying is just being authentic before God and having a conversation. It really is. It’s not certain words. So just start doing those things. Don't be afraid to press in.

Wow! That’s just so rich. And for those Christians who really want to meaningfully engage with those who don't believe. You’ve mentioned Kara, of course. She had evidently a beautiful embodied picture of what being a Christian looked like, and that in some ways was attractive to you or at least piqued your curiosity as to why she's different. How would you recommend that Christians live or speak? Or what attitude should they have or whatever?

Well, so I think first it comes with a heart posture of surrender. I've just become more and more convinced that life is really about surrendering yourself to Christ. And either… I think there's two options: We're either trying to control things to the way we want to or we surrender them to Christ. And surrendering feels like dying, but actually that's where you're finding life. When you're dying to yourself, you're finding real life. And I say that because that's the answer to nonbelievers or that's the answer to the most seasoned believer who knows… maybe is just a genius, just has all the elements, they still need to surrender. And I'm saying that because, if you don't do that, then how you approach someone else is going to be impacted in some way. Maybe you start treating them like a project or you lack the compassion maybe just to sit there and be silenced and listen to them for a little bit and just listen and then maybe later have a conversation.

I think if you're trying to strategize and do it in your own strength, “I'm going to walk them through this six-week study and then….” Really surrender yourself to what God wants you to do in this person's life. I think it's crucial because you can just mess things up. I think that is how Christians mess things up. They start spouting off on social media, and they're not surrendered. They're just taking their own approach to it. And that's very… I think people want to see authenticity, and you're not going to be your true self, the person that God designed you to be, until you surrender yourself. And so it's an ongoing day by day, minute by minute exercise, but especially as you're going to engage someone, you really should focus on doing that.

Yes. I don't think there's probably any wiser counsel that you could give right there. It sounds like you have been listening to the word and reading books of scripture and Proverbs and whatnot, because you are a man of wisdom. I can hear that. And it also sounds like you really have engaged in the larger story and God’s story, that you have surrendered your life to His story, which is the best story of all, right? You have found true love. And I think that's what we all seek, is to be fully known and fully loved, and it sounds like you have found that. Thank you so much, Neil, for coming on to tell your story, for your insights, for your wisdom. We just so appreciate it. Thank you so much.

It's been a pleasure. Like I was telling you earlier, I really enjoy what you're doing here. I think helping people hear stories…. Well, Jesus taught in stories. Something about stories catches our attention. So I really appreciate what you're doing. I think this is very helpful to unbelievers and believers alike, to kind of just hear how God is really at work in real people's lives. So I hope this is an encouragement to someone to take that next step, whatever that may be. But keep doing what you're doing, and I think it’s a big encouragement.

Thank you, Neil, for those kind words. It is a true encouragement. Thank you again.

Thanks for tuning into Side B Stories to hear Neil's story. You can find out more about his podcast, as well as other information, in our episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me directly through our website at sidebstories.com or our email. Again, that is [email protected].

I'd like to take a moment to express my deep appreciation for our amazing audio engineer, Mark Rosera, of the C.S. Lewis Institute, and our producer, Ashley Decker, also of the C.S. Lewis Institute here in Atlanta, both for their amazing and excellent ongoing work. I always appreciate them.

I hope you enjoyed this episode and that you'll follow, rate, review, and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I'll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we'll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life.


 

COPYRIGHT: This publication is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.

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