My Story

My story, like all Christian history, is simply my most exciting Christian stories gathered together in one place. I didn't want my story to be boring description. This is (some of) the most exciting Christian experiences I've had.

Paul Pavao

In person, people love these stories. My kids beg for more of them. They even tell their friends to stick around and listen. Everyone loves a good story. I hope I can do them justice here.

These are all true; as you can tell from the rest of this site, I'm a stickler for facts.

My Wife

Meeting Lorie is the second-best thing that's ever happened to me. Meeting Jesus was the best. But you've heard lots of conversion stories, so let's start with my somewhat unique encounter with Lorie.

I filled out a visitation card when I attended Faith Baptist—an American church in Einsiedlerhof, Germany—for the first time. I was working late one Monday evening when they came to visit.

Lorie and SamMy wife, Lorie, and our dog, Sam.

I buzzed the door open and a pretty young lady and a shabbily-dressed man came in. The man was the leader of the singles group at Faith Baptist Church, and the young lady … well, … 

The young lady had just quit a managerial job at the Frankfurt airport McDonald's in order to pursue God more fully. She had been selected for this visit because she had dated a Mormon for a year.

I'm not a Mormon.

But they thought I might be.

You see, even at that time I was greatly bothered by division in Christianity. The Scriptures teach us that Christian unity is what proves to the world that the Father sent the Son (Jn. 17:20-23). They say that when we say "I'm of Paul" or "I'm of Apollos," then we're carnal (1 Cor. 3:3-4; see also 1:10-13).

I've never seen the difference between that and saying "I'm a Pentecostal" or "I'm a Methodist."

So when the visitation card asked what church I belonged to, I wrote, "The Church of Jesus Christ." Normally I would also add "Isn't there only one?", but this time I'd decided not to.

My "Church of Jesus Christ" had completely befuddled the Baptist visitation team. They couldn't figure out what church that might be. (A sad testimony to the state of Christianity today.)

Finally, they decided that it very likely was short for "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints"; in other words, the Mormons.

The singles leader and my wife-to-be wasted no time in determining what was true. I explained that the Church of Jesus Christ is a reference to the only Church there is.

My wife has explained to me since then that this revealed I was a weirdo. 

As an aside on the spelling of "weirdo," one of my favorite spelling tips is "i before e except after c, or when it says ay as in neighbor and weigh, or when it's just ‘weird.’"

My children love to quote comedian Brian Regan's version of that rule: "i before e except after c, and when sounding like ay as in neighbor and weigh, and on weekends and holidays and all throughout May, and you'll always be wrong no matter what you say!"

His comment? "That's a hard rule."

They then asked for my testimony, which I delivered to their satisfaction, thus "proving" I'm a Christian. (My "testimony" is below.)

My wife told me later she did have one problem with my testimony. It was when I said that my first encounter with Christ was like being stoned, but with my mind clear. It was a very powerful experience that still gives me motivation today. I've promised God I will never forget it.

Apparently they were shocked to hear being born again compared to being stoned.

Okay. Looking back, I can understand that. Sorry, Lorie.

To make the rest of the story very short, they also determined that I wasn't going to any church or attending Sunday services on a regular basis. I was also working late. Thus, it was certain I was backslidden.

Of course, they didn't know to ask whether I was in fellowship every day, meeting in the homes of other fired-up Christians and handing out tracts on the streets of Kaiserslautern. They'd find that out soon enough, along with some other things …

That Scandalous Bible Study

My lack of tolerance for division and lack of concern for sacred cows had gotten me cold-shouldered out of a couple previous churches. (It also resulted in good friendships with pastors who prefer zeal for God to tradition.) This time, I was determined to lay low.

No making waves for me. No doctrinal controversies. I would simply attend Faith Baptist, find those that loved God with a whole heart, and fellowship, witness, and sing songs to God with them. No comments about the things I was learning in the Scriptures and church history.

You'll find that this site is quite honest about church history. I don't hide anything from you. We need to be aware that the traditions of men don't do any better with God today than they did in Jesus' day.

I had to get a ride from my wife-to-be to the Bible study. My financial situation wasn't the best:

  • I had fallen asleep driving back overnight from a Christian film distributors conference in Switzerland. My car was totaled, and the insurance refused to pay.
  • I was working a new job for an insurance agent. I had lost my old job when the German government shut down the Christian bookstore I was working for.
  • They did this because the owner, a well-known preacher still receiving tithes by mail, was committing tax fraud and smuggling gold jewelry from Italy.
  • I lived above the bookstore as part of my pay, so I had lost my place to live.

So … I needed a ride to the Bible study.

I'm Not a Baptist

This was pointed out to me by a young man I met that first day at Faith Baptist. This young man had seen me in Sunday School, but we had not talked. We had not even exchanged hellos. However, from behind me on the way into the service, he said, "I'm not a Baptist."

I had to laugh.

I welcomed him on their behalf, even though it was my first week there. Nothing further was said as we sat next to each other during the service. Nonetheless, when it ended, he looked at me and said, "You're not a Baptist."

Some things just show, I guess.

At the Bible study, I sat at the end of a long table across from Dee Brown, the lady who was leading the study. We were in Romans 11, and she began by asking the young man on her left to read verses 1-3. Then she asked him what he thought those verses meant.

I began doing some quick mental calculations.

I was horrified. "No, God, you're not really doing this to me, are you?"

My calculations were correct. About 20 minutes later, she asked me to read verses 19-22. Have you ever read them? I try to keep my paragraphs short to help with online reading, but you have to see all four of these verses.

You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." True. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Don't be haughty, but fear.

If God didn't spare the natural branches, he may not spare you either.

Consider, therefore, the goodness and the severity of God. To those who fell, severity; towards you, goodness. If you continue in his goodness. Otherwise, you too will be cut off.

I read those verses out loud, and the Bible study asked me the only question she could ask to those verses.

Do you believe that means a person can lose their salvation?

I hung my head.

I may not be a Baptist, but I know what Baptists believe. In fact, I knew what Baptists believe better than any of them in the room, which we were all about to find out.

I raised my head.

Hey, if God was going to do this to me, it must be okay for me to lean into it.

"Yes. Yes, I do."

Well, of course I do. What else do those verses say? Quote all the other verses that you think say the opposite, but it doesn't change what Romans 11:19-22 says. If there are verses that teach unconditional eternal security, then they contradict Romans 11:19-22, and we ought to admit they do.

I don't think there are any such verses, though.

Those Baptists, including my wife-to-be, sure tried to convince me that there were, though. They fired one argument at me after another. How can someone born again become unborn? How can a son become not a son? The Bible says nothing can snatch us out of God's hand? So eternal life isn't eternal?

With a defeated and deflated attitude--because I was defeated by God; none of this is what I wanted--I answered their barrage of questions. You can't become unborn, but you can die. You can be disowned. You can leave God's hand even if no one snatches you out of it. Eternal life is eternal whether you have it or not. Eternal describes the life, not your possession of it.

Finally I told them, "You know, I've been in this discussion a hundred times. There can't possibly be anything new to say. If you want a verse I can't explain well, try 1 John 2:19."

They didn't. My wife says it's because no one wanted to admit they didn't know what it said.

That must be why they don't know what it said. If you admit what you don't know, you learn.

Anyway, after 30 or 45 minutes it all calmed down. No one seemed to mind my doctrinal heresy, and I was invited back for the next meeting. That was Lorie's birthday.

As they say, the rest is history.

Joining the Church

It wasn't always easy as I got to know Lorie.

Well, yes it was. Let me change that. It wasn't always easy as Lorie got to know me.

It only took us six months to get married. We're both pretty practical. She was perfect in every way, so it would obviously be stupid not to marry her if she would marry me. On her side. Um … 

I hate to question my own wife's judgment, so let's just leave that subject alone.

At the wedding, the new pastor—also a criminal who would later be chased out of Germany by the German government; I seem to have a knack for being near criminal preachers—told me that he noticed I wasn't a member of the church. He was wondering why not.

We were standing up front at the time, waiting for the bride to come up the aisle.

I asked him if there might be a better time to talk about that.

The better time was three weeks later. My wife and I met with him together.

She was a member, so I was the only bad guy in the room.

I explained that commitment to Christ is commitment to the church. I made that commitment when I was baptized. To me, joining a church says that I didn't join it when I was baptized. I couldn't make that statement.

And if the church that he was talking about joining was the Baptist church, then I wasn't interested in joining that one. Those who say "I'm of Paul" or "I'm of Apollos" or "I'm a Baptist" are carnal.

The pastor couldn't think of any satisfactory answers, so he told me to beware of spiritual pride, and he sent me on my way.

On the way home, my wife bawled her eyes out. She couldn't understand why I wouldn't sign a meaningless piece of paper.

When we got home, she called her dad. There was triumph in her eyes when she told me, "My dad said he'd come over and talk to you tonight."

I told her that would be fine.

Her dad, whom I didn't know very well, was very pleasant. He was a preacher, and he's not a criminal. Pretty neat guy, as a matter of fact.

He liked me, and he liked what I said. He told his daughter—my wife—that if he saw things the way I did, he'd be doing exactly what I was doing. He commended me.

My wife really looked up to her dad and trusted him. To this day she says that God handed that trust to me that night.

Pink Pork Chops

This won't cause you to become a better Christian or anything, but it's a great story, so it belongs on this page.

The first time we invited my in-laws to dinner, I talked Lorie into cooking a couple of my favorite dishes: teriyaki chicken and char-siu pork.

The teriyaki chicken is safe. Everyone (almost) not only likes it but loves it. The char-siu pork, on the other hand, is a different story.

My in-laws brought over Lorie's brother, who was a very troubled and very brash teenager at the time. When he sat down for his first meal from Lorie the home-maker, his eyes almost popped out of his head.

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"THESE PORK CHOPS ARE PINK!!!

My mother-in-law tried to get him to be polite. "Dear, you shouldn't say such things."

"THEY ARE, MOM! CAN'T YOU SEE THEM? THEY'RE REALLY PINK!!!

My mother-in-law was irritated now; she shushed him.

Then he tasted the food.

"Mmmm. Hey, these pink pork chops are pretty good. OH, MY GOSH! THIS IS THE BEST CHICKEN I EVER HAD!!! LORIE, THIS IS THE BEST CHICKEN I'VE EVER HAD!"

He was shushed again.

Triumph.

My Testimony

Let's see how quickly I can do this. I'm told this is a really interesting story, though I may tell it better in person.

I also found a shorter version that I wrote for Rose Creek Village's Stonehouse Chronicles.

Seek, but You Shall Not Find

I was raised Roman Catholic. At the age of 12 or 13 I somehow began to have a strong desire to serve God.

Fortunately, I was to be "confirmed" at age 13, and the RCC told me that I would received the Holy Spirit and become a soldier for Christ once that happened. I was excited, ready to lose my social fears and become a bold witness for God and for the RCC.

I went to confirmation, and nothing happened. I was horrified.

My mom saw my interest in God, and she bought me some Protestant books, including the incredible The Cross and the Switchblade.

These books made me realize that I needed to ask Jesus into my heart. The problem is, I didn't have a clue how to do it.

I remember laying on my back in my bed every night with my arms spread wide, asking Jesus to come into my heart. I'm sure I did that for at least a month.

Nothing happened.

The worst frustration I had was reading about Rev. 3:20 and Jesus knocking at the door of my heart. The tracts I read said that door of my heart had just one handle, on the inside, and I had to turn it to let Jesus in. Jesus didn't have a handle on his side of the door.

That illustration made me mad!

What handle! Where was it at? I couldn't see or find a handle. If I could have found it, I would have pulled it wide open, but there was no handle. This was my heart they were talking about, not my bedroom. What was I supposed to do?

Worse, the next morning I would get up and go to school as always, and I'd never think about God until afternoon. By the time I did, I wanted to kick myself in disgust. But no matter how hard I tried, I never got up in the morning with God or divine things on my mind.

Finally, I gave up. This couldn't possibly be real.

New Age Before It Was Called New Age

A year or two later I found the book You Were Born Again To Be Together by Dick Sutphen. It was a book on reincarnation. It seemed very scientific to my 15-year-old mind, and I began a journey into eastern religions, from a western standpoint that would soon gain the name of New Age.

I did all of it. I studied transcendental meditation, and I did it morning and night for years. I learned self-hypnotism, and I stared at candles. I had my local library order The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I explored, thought, and philosophized.

The Military, Atheism, and the Satanic Bible

At age 20 I joined the military. I had gotten into drugs—mostly marijuana—once I got out of high school, and I'd lost all motivation to finish college. I also didn't have the willpower to quit drugs, so I figured the military would help.

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It didn't.

My first roommate at my first base was selling marijuana out of our room. He was also getting A's on his room inspection by putting The Satanic Bible on his dresser with two candles, one white and one black, burning next to it.

I was fascinated by that, and I actually read The Satanic Bible, which he had never read.

It was mainly through the influence of that book that I decided to become an atheist.

Roger Thomas

The Effectual, Fervent Prayer of a Righteous Man Availeth Much

My spiritual life was now very complicated. I had become an atheist, and I was reading The Satanic Bible, but my boss—Roger Thomas—was the assistant pastor of a black Pentecostal church. He was one of the most outspoken Christians I've ever met.

I worked with him every day, and we argued about the Bible, about hell, and about Jesus every day.

I won most of those arguments. I would find something to tell him that he couldn't answer. Roger would throw his head back and laugh. Then he would tell me that I would make a great Christian some day.

I didn't agree with him, but I did like him, and I knew that if it were good for anyone to be a Christian, it was good that Roger was a Christian.

What I didn't know is that Roger's confidence was bolstered every day by an abundance of prayer. Only later would I find out how well Roger could pray.

Months later, after I was a Christian, I asked Roger to pray for an alcoholic friend of mine. This friend was very habitual in his drinking. Two six-packs of beer every evening, and a case each day on Saturday and Sunday. Never more, never less.

creek and woods

Until Roger prayed.

I asked Roger to pray at a Bible study one Friday evening. The next morning I woke up "Beav," my alcoholic friend, late in the morning in his room.

He woke up, rubbed his eyes, and told me, "You won't believe what happened to me last night."

"Really?" I asked.

"Really," he said. "Last night I didn't drink a drop. I just didn't want to. It was the weirdest thing."

For months afterward I tried to duplicate Roger's results in prayer, but it never worked. Roger was just special.

Roger's Prayers Shake My Atheism

God began to shake my atheism. First I watched a movie called In the Presence of Mine Enemies. It was about a man who had been a POW in Vietnam for seven years.

At the end of that movie, when the POW's were released together, they all got in a circle, sang "God Bless America," and then they got on their knees to give thanks to God.

When I saw them bow, I was enraged. Why should they be bowing to God? This is exactly what made me an atheist. Here's this supposedly good God sticking them in a stinking, filthy prison to suffer torture for seven years, then when they're released, he gets the glory for their release but no condemnation for their imprisonment.

I was alone in the break room in the barracks as I watched the movie, and I stood up to yell at the TV before storming back to my room.

That night, as I lay in bed, another answer came to me. In fact, it was the only explanation I could find for why those prisoners were not all atheists.

God had helped them.

God had helped them. Not just when they were released, but throughout their imprisonment. They did not lose faith because God had ministered to them in their cells.

It seemed the only answer to me.

But if that answer were correct, then I could no longer be an atheist.

Contradictions and the Power of the Bible

In the midst of our arguments, Roger had asked me to show him the contradictions in the Bible that I kept talking about. So I went down to the library to find a book with a list of them.

I couldn't find one.

That was irritating, but I thought, "No problem. I'll just write one myself."

It seemed like it would be simple enough. I'd just read the New Testament myself, and I'd make note of all the contradictions.

So in May of 1982 I began reading the Bible.

My initial reaction to Jesus was outrage. He seemed to be one of the rudest people I'd ever read about. Here were his disciples, struggling to help a poor epileptic child by casting out a demon, and it wasn't working.

So does Jesus encourage them? Does he tell them what they're doing wrong? No, he snaps at them, asking out loud, "How long do I have to be with you?"

This was not the nice, loving Jesus I had been told about.

The problem was, nice and loving or not, Jesus was an incredible man. He had 12 companions with him for 3 years, and 11 of those 12 would give their lives testifying that he was God's Son.

If he was just a magician, he was a good one. You can't fool your day-by-day companions. They know about your foibles.

These men lived and traveled with him for three years, then testified with their lives that he was sinless.

That's nothing to shake a stick at, and it shook me to the core.

Oh, that's right! The contradictions!

I forgot to look for them.

God's Not Interested in Self-Hypnosis

Around that same time, I lost the ability to do self-hypnosis, which I am now convinced is demonic.

There's a word for my problem now. It's called "restless leg syndrome." Whenever I started to go through the relaxation procedures for self-hypnosis, my legs would become so uncomfortable that I just had to move them, massage them, anything but continue with the self-hypnosis.

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After several days in a row of that happening, I just gave up on the self-hypnosis even though I had been doing it nightly for years.

I had had one very strange experience with self-hypnosis in college a year or two earlier.

I was laying in bed, in a self-hypnotic state, and I was concentrating on pulling a particular poster off the wall mentally. I had tried telekinesis numerous times before, but it had never worked. That night, as I concentrated, I heard a loud rustling of paper from the poster, which was only about four feet away.

I would have expected to be thrilled at the success. Instead, I was stricken with incredible terror. I curled up in a ball under the covers with no thought of checking the poster. I was curious, but I couldn't overcome the terror. I went to sleep that way.

In the morning I awoke, and the poster was hanging by its bottom corner.

Was it just chance? That's possible, I suppose. The poster had been hanging there for months however, and it was held on by a sticky, gum-like poster holder that usually grips stronger as time passes.

But why the terror?

That and the stories I heard from a friend that also used to practice self-hypnosis led me to my conviction that self-hypnosis is demonic.

The Power of Believing

In July of that year, I visited an Assembly of God church. It was Wednesday night, and I was young enough, 21, that I went to the youth Bible Study rather than the main service.

That Bible study, as in so many cases like mine, was geared just for me. It hit everything I hated and objected to in Christianity.

The youth pastor told those kids they should say no to drugs, to alcohol, to sex, and to all other forms of immorality. It was "just say no" fifteen years before its time.

I was incensed. I was sure that these youth were being oppressed. "If it feels good, do it!" That's what I said, and anything less was oppression. It stifled the freedom of those young adults.

There was no chance to speak. I left the youth meeting indignant.

I went upstairs to the sanctuary, and the standard service was still going on. I peeked in, and it was dead quiet. People were standing with hands raised, not saying a word.

I crept in and entered the last pew. I stilled myself, then lifted my hands, trying to sense the Spirit of God like all the people around me.

This all felt very mystical, quite in line with my New Age philosophy. As the events of the last couple months drove my atheism away, the New Age ideas came back. The Christian ones of my youth were long gone, seemingly forgotten.

It didn't last long before the service ended. Maybe 5 minutes. I never could "feel" the Spirit in there.

I walked out, and a man, about 30, walked up and introduced himself. He had noticed that I was new. He said, "Couldn't you feel the Spirit in there?" he gushed. Clearly he had felt the Spirit.

"Well, sort of," I answered.

"Are you saved?" he asked.

I knew what that meant. I'd just told my boss' church on Sunday that I wasn't. "No," I answered.

"Would you like to talk?" he asked.

So off we went to a room to talk.

The Power of Believing: Continued

I was practiced from discussions with Roger. We debated the standard topics: Is the Bible the Word of God and would God really eternally torture sinners? I was good at it. Winning was easy.

Robin Whitley was unmoved. "It doesn't matter," he said, "whether the Bible is the Word of God or whether hell is real until we determine whether Jesus is the Son of God."

He paused and looked at me with a piercing stare. "Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God."

I hadn't fully thought about it. I did now, though. Everything I had read about Jesus in the Gospels and the apostles' reaction to him came back to me.

Worse, the ramifications of believing struck me. If Jesus is the Son of God, I thought, then everything needs to change. If Jesus is the Son of God, all those things the youth pastor told those kids were correct. They should say no. They should deny themselves.

And so should I.

I thought and thought, and Robin let me think.

Finally, I decided that whatever the ramifications, truth is truth. I did believe Jesus is the Son of God. I supposed things would have to change.

Then I said the words that shook my whole world.

"Yes, I Believe."

The whole world changed. I was transported. Nothing was ever the same again. My whole life vanished away, and I entered a new one. In a moment it was obvious why being saved was referred to as being "born again."

Does It Last?

There's much more to that story. It's been going on for 27 years.

I can tell you that this time, when I got up the next morning, Jesus was the first thing on my mind. That's been the case ever since.

I suppose the rest of it will have to wait for another time. I'm sure much of that story will be told throughout this web site.

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