Here is the full post (second edition) of my life until seminary (1998). Soon I will fill it in with the rest since seminary.
Martin Luther spoke about the doctrine of justification saying that Christians are simul iustus et peccator, “The same time righteous and sinner.” I think this phrase sums up my life very well.
When did I first trust in Christ? That is what a testimony is about, right? I don’t really know. I was born in Midwest City, Oklahoma, September 22, 1972. I remember when I was four years old swinging with Todd, my best friend at the time, asking him if he believed in Jesus. He said “No.” I then told him he was going to hell. He responded, “Then I do believe in Jesus.” Ahhh, my first convert! You do have to be a Christian to make a convert don’t you? Well, either way, that is one of my earliest memories and at the time I believe I knew Christ the best a four-year-old could.
My mother and father were “unequally yoked.” My mother was a Christian, while my father . . . well, he just did not talk much about his beliefs (he did not talk much about anything). I can remember from an early age sitting in my mother’s bed while I listened to her read the Bible. She knew the Gospel and loved Christ. She was not overbearing, but was very outreach minded. I had three sisters, two older and one younger. She loved us and gave us all her attention. Her greatest desire was for all her children to love the Lord. Because of my mom, we were a very close family.
My father was different. Stern, disciplined, and, at times, terrifying. Those are the best adjectives that I can think of to describe him as I grew up. He always provided for the family and, even though he rarely would give up terms of endearment, we all knew that he loved us. I looked up to him like any son does a father. He was my hero. I wanted him to be proud of me. The problem was that I just did not know what would make him proud. He never mentioned Christ, did not read his Bible, and was prone to spend his nights at the bars. I remember praying for his salvation every night, having great hopes about what the Lord would do. My mother and father went through many separations and nearly divorced a time or two. But my father would always come back on his knees with promises to change. I think he really wanted to, but just could not sustain the motivation.
I, myself, don’t remember the depth of my spirituality early on. I do remember praying quite a bit. From about age eight to twelve, I had a serious weight problem. My family, sisters, mother, and father, were all very beautiful. People from everywhere would talk about my mother and sisters. Although my older sisters were three and five years my elder, their guy friends would befriend me for a chance to get close to them. Many times people would say to me, “You are Angie and Kristie’s brother? What happened to you?” I would laugh it off in their presence, but go home and cry at my bedside praying to Christ to make me like them.
While I was insecure about such things, I had many close friends who I grew up with. These friends began to “go steady” with girls when I was about eleven or twelve. I remember one party that my best friend had. It was a “couples” party. I was not invited because I did not have a girl to go with. I tried to take heart and press on, hoping that one day I would get a girl friend and be “cool” like the other guys. At one time, I took the school yearbook and began calling girls randomly, asking them to “go with me.” They all said no except one girl who asked. “go where?” I did not know what to say so I said “Skating.” She said no as well. 🙁
Such was life for some time. I don’t know why I did not follow my mother’s teaching and simply not worry about it, but I was determined to gain dignity in the area that was causing me so much emotional pain and public ridicule. In eighth grade, things changed. Looking at myself without a shirt in the mirror one day, I said to myself “Things are going to be different.” I began jogging every day and working out vigorously. Within three months I had lost 58 pounds. People did not recognize me. I was a different person.
Immediately I began to pursue that which I never had—respect in the eyes of my friends and, hopefully, my dad. Girls. That is what I need. I need them all to like me. I need them all to like me more than they liked everyone else. This was my ambition. Along with this came sacrifice. I know that my mother had taught me differently, but I was determined enough. I needed to be looked up to by others like my sisters were. Maybe this was why my father did not like me that much. Well, now I could let him know that he had a cool son. The sacrifice involved telling Christ that I would be right back—that I just have to do some things. I remember actually telling Christ that I was sorry, but I promised to return.
Parties, drinking, a little drugs when necessary. These provided the avenues to clear my nagging conscience of what I knew was wrong—sex. My main goal was to sleep with girls. How many girls could I sleep with? This was the primary and most definite way to gain acceptance with my friends and solidify my place as one who “does all things well.”
High School led into college and the pursuit did not stop. My grades were terrible. I barely made it out of High School and I was kicked out of college after one year for having a .66 grade point average. I did not really care. It was not the drinking or the drugs that were addictive, it was the acceptance and the heroic status that I was attempting to attain. I would think of others who were not walking the same path as me and say to myself “The only reason they are not doing what I am doing is cause they can’t.” This went on for years.
During this time, I was still dropping by the Lord’s throne from time to time. I would approach with my head down with no intention of staying long. I did not really know what to say. Two of my friends were in the same boat as I. We grew up in Christian homes, loved the Gospel, felt bad for what we were doing, but just could not help it. (Ironically, we all had mothers who loved the Lord and fathers who were not influential spiritually.)
I did the best I could to be Christian in the environment I was in. Many times, drunk at a bar I would get in fights with people over evolution. Yes, I am serious. I would tell them (with a slur) how stupid they were and how I was going to kick their . . . umm . . . “back side” for not believing in God. Needless to say, I did not win any of them over.
When I was twenty-one I became a personal fitness trainer. What better way was there to get girls than in this profession? In my mind, I could help people and further my agenda. At least I was meeting God half way, eh?
My poor mother. She did not know how to handle this. In fact, it was not only me who was heading down this path, but all her kids. “What did I do wrong?” That was her question to us. We were making her emotionally unstable. She tried everything. She would kick me out of the house and then a week later threaten me if I did not come back. Then she would try a different tactic. She would seemingly calm down and try to be my friend, but then she would hear about something I did and kick me out again. I thought she was crazy.
As the college years passed and my perception of my legendary status grew, I began to feel empty. When I did not wake up in a foreign place ready to share a “morning story” of debauchery with my friends, I would sit in silence, trying to forget about the one “who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” I was shaming Him. The more I shamed Him the further away I ran. But the silence always gave way to His presence and I would cry out in an accusing manner, “Lord, you made me this way. I can’t stop. I want to . . . at least I want to want to. But you are going to have to do something. I am not Job! I can’t take temptation.” This went on for a while. The sadness grew in intensity. I would often cry out to Him at 2am while I was drunk.
I had achieved what I was after. I had gained my dignity. But I found, in the end, it was only a mirage of satisfaction that left me more empty than I had ever been before. I was simul iustus et peccator with an emphasis on the peccator. My life did not only fail to look Christian in any sense, but most would have thought that I was a close friend of the anti-Christ. But they did not know about the conflict within.
I wish that I could say that change is easy. I wish that I could say that once you truly desire ridding yourself of sin that God would immediately come to the aid and provide the change of heart and mind that is necessary to become a “man of God.” But, my testimony will give no such indication of such acute triumph.
I recognized that my pursuits were empty and making me the subject of their betrayal, but I was determined to make my life harmonize with my faith.
Monday mornings became days of sadness turned repentance turned hope. I would wake up and review the events of the weekend in shame. I would call on God to forgive me and give me strength. It is so easy to mistake the feeling of remorse and a renewed agenda of righteousness for His strength. With this “Monday morning hope” in mind, I would call all my friends informing them of my decision to quit. “Its over. I am not going out any more.” At first this alarmed them, but after nearly two years of hearing the same story they would just laugh and say “Sure Michael. We will see you at the T-Bar on Friday for penny beer.” They were right. I could not sustain the strength. By the time Friday came my spirituality had faded into the abyss and the wretched man was in control.
While I was out one night I met this girl. She was moving to Arizona so that night I made a rash drunken decision to move to Arizona with her. I took three friends with me (they had nothing better to do!). While I was there, the cognitive dissonance continued to grow. I began to talk to this girl about my faith. She was a not a believer and was not open to my evangelizing. But I pursued anyway. She must have thought I was rather odd as I would break up with her, quit drinking and sleeping with her for weeks, then lose my motivation, returning, plunging myself deeper into sin than ever before.
After six months of dating, she was ready for us to start talking seriously about our relationship. I told her that one day things would change in my life and that neither of us would be happy with each other.
When I moved back to Oklahoma, however, it was dichotic business as usual.
Staying home, studying my Bible intently one week and the next going out every night adding to my depravity. That was the way it looked in ’93. I would try not to sleep with girls, but drunkenness has a way of alleviating yourself of a godly conscience.
(As a side-note: most people don’t realize how many people there are out there who are going through this conflict, living this type of a dichotomous lifestyle. While I was in it, I met many who were in the exact same circumstance as me. I knew who they were and they knew who I was. Upon seeing each other we would just hang our head in shame knowing what the other was thinking, neither of us with a solution as to how to rectify the situation. Our saddened countenance was like our secret handshake. We were the simul iustus et peccator at the bars.)
During this time I had started going to church again. I loved church. Really, I loved my pastor, Chet Lackey. The church he led had only about fifteen people on a busy day (six of those were from my family). There was something about Chet. He knew the faith. He was an exegete, theologian, and apologist all in one. I had never seen this before. I truly believed he was the smartest person on earth. His teaching lit within me a passion for truth. He taught me to defend the faith in a way other than the unconventional method that I mentioned previously. I learned about the evidences for the resurrection, eschatology, and hermeneutics. I learned that Christianity was not only true because mom said so, but because the evidences are compelling. But more than this, Chet was a man of grace and mercy. Although he never mentioned it, he knew my lifestyle. I don’t know how he knew, but I am certain he did. In spite of this, he was always waiting with open arms every Sunday evening (we were meeting in a Seventh Day Adventist building at night). His strong uncompromising love for theology and the Gospel along with an accepting love were influential beyond all else at this time. In my mind, when I pictured what I wanted to be like if I were able to overcome my failures, it was to be like Chet. During my “intervals of revival” I would often meet Chet and discuss theology. At one point I asked to meet him to talk about going to seminary. He encouraged me to pursue this direction, suggesting Dallas Theological Seminary.
In ’94 Chet announced at church that he was going in for minor exploratory surgery and to pray for him. He never came out. He choked on his spit after surgery while in recovery and died. After his death, I was determined to continue his legacy.
But a problem remained. I still could not find consistency in my life. I tried to compensate. I would go out on dates and pull out my J. Vernon McGee Commentary and begin to teach. These girls looked at me like I was crazy, but usually conceded and listened for anyway. I could not understand why they were not as excited as me about the fact that there were not really only three wise men. It was revolutionary to me!
One Sunday night while at my home away from home, The Dugout, for drown night ($5 for all the Milwaukee’s Best you can drink), I met someone that would become the biggest part of my life. She was a new waitress. Not only this, but she was increadibly hot! I knew all the waitresses (most more than I needed to), and I was not about to let this one leave without my attention. I stopped her as she walked by my table and said, “Before I get drunk, I wanted to tell you that I love you.” I was already drunk and her name was Kristie . . .
Kristie was different than other girls. I know, I know, everyone says this. But the night we met, I still remember where I was standing and what I said. Her innocence and timidity kept me from a wayward impulse from the moment she spoke. “Before I get drunk, I want to tell you I love you.” Ahhh, my famous first words to her that I will never live down. Her surprised look turned to a sweet giggle. Kristie was not one of the “bar scene” people like myself. In fact, it was her first night to work at the Dugout. She was instigated by a friend to take the job while she was working at another restaurant. She told Kristie that she would make a lot of money. That Sunday night she naively showed up to work at a bar on drown night! (And I am glad she did.) I spent the entire night trying to convince her that I was not really . . . well . . . what I was. I tried to convince her of my inner longing to be different; at least to be out of the bar/womanizing scene. I told her that I just left church before I had come there. I told her all about Chet. I told her that someday all this would come to an end. And you know what? This naive 19 year old bar maid believed me.
Again, I would like to say that things changed from this point on, but you have to remember, Michael Patton is on the scene. When this is the case, there are always problems. Once we started dating, everything slowed down for a time. Our relationship was good and I treated her with the respect that I withheld from others. But Kristie was a little too . . . (now I am going to get in trouble) . . . clingy. I was not ready for that. I broke up with her, but knew that there was something different about our relationship. (Oh, and I can’t live this down.)
One determination that I had fixated in my mind was that I had to change for the right reasons. I wanted to become a man of God like Chet, but I did not want to be forced to do so by a relationship. Therefore I continued the struggle alone. And I continued the dichotomous cycle of Romans 7, “That which I want to do, I do not do. That which I don’t want to do, that is what I do.”
Moving forward under such circumstances is never easy. Sin is a part of us. It does not want to let go. Failure after failure quickly gives way to despondency. After this, the solicitations for apathy are in your inbox each time you check. But, it seems, the inability to have total apathy is a calling card of the Holy Spirit. When you try to give up, He won’t let you. After two years I could still not find a way to get out but I could not find a way to give up either. It seemed that it would have been easier to leave the mafia, but moving forward is the one thing I could not cease to attempt.
My mind was filled with Chet’s teachings. It became harder and harder for me to think about anything other than studying, reading, and the Gospel. I listened to Chuck Swindoll’s series called Grace Awakening and was struck by the radical nature of God’s grace. God was saying to me, “Michael, you can do what you want. You want to go hang out with your friends, get drunk, and sleep with girls. Fine! You have the freedom to do so. You have the freedom to do whatever you please.” The problem was that He was slowly changing my pleasures and my life did not really please me. The freedom that this realization gave to me was like a great burden that was lifted from me. The mandate “You shall not get drunk; you shall not sleep with girls” turned into a “Go ahead, waste your life!” Ouch! I found this “divine reverse psychology” to be much more effective. This freedom, this radical idea of grace, changed my thinking and eventually changed my life.
Over the course of the next year I continued to have this insatiable desire to learn. The more I learned, the more I said to myself “This is really true!” It is not that I did not believe it before, but the intellectual component added to my former “leap of faith” created a new sense of responsibility and opportunity for my life. It deepened my faith and commitment.
Driving home from college one day contemplating these things I argued with myself, “Michael, if this is true and you really believe it to be true, isn’t it worth it?” I continued this autonomous discussion, “If you were to have certain knowledge, and I mean ”Back to the Future” type certainty, of an imminent and massive climb of a future stock, wouldn’t you invest everything you had into it?” “Well, of course,” I answered myself. ”Well, isn’t this what God is offering? Do you believe Him when He says that it is better to obey? Do you believe Him when He says that He is the creator and only He knows how to give you joy, happiness, and purpose? Do you believe him or not?”
It was at that moment I realized that I was an “unbelieving believer.” In other words, I had trusted in God’s promise to ultimately save me through what Christ did, but I had not really believed anything else He said. It was an issue of whether or not God is trustworthy. I realized that being a believer means that you believe everything God says, not just the expedient points that secure your salvation. I realized that believing in such a way was not merely a mandate, but an opportunity.
That drive was representative of a transformation that I now realize had been in the works for years. A good friend of mine said that getting rid of sin is like trying to get the air out of a bottle. You can do it one of two ways. You can suck on the bottle until you are blue in the face concentrating only on the air, or you can fill it with something else. I had not realized it but while I was sucking on the bottle for two years, God was slowly filling it with something else.
Well, things did change. My thoughts were consumed with Him. I did not have any more time to waste. It took my friends months before they really believed that my “I’m done” disappearing act was not short hand for “I will be back after I get this guilt monkey off my back.” I found Kristie and convinced her to marry me. She said yes! I graduated from college and then entered seminary and lived happily ever after! Ahem . . . well, not exactly. As always, there is more to it than this.
Next will cover my life from having it all figured out until now.