by Steven Pake
Or: How Returning To Church For the First Time in 25 Years Changed My Life
I grew up in the Catholic church, but fell away from the church after leaving home for college in 1996, and have never attended church as an adult. Despite having had baptism and doing the things a good Catholic ought to do, I never established a connection with God or the church. But I still tried to live a very moral life and weather the storms, until it all crashed down on me.
This is the story of my return to Faith, the Church, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Many of us reach a point in our lives when our accumulated traumas and betrayals all reach a critical mass that serves to demoralize and blackpill. My body betrayed me in the worst possible way when it turned on itself as I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer eleven years ago. There were times I wanted to end it all because of the PTSD and other mental health issues that developed as a result of my brutal fight against cancer. Terrible tragedies have struck elsewhere in our families that have been unfathomable. Many people that I had cared about and thought were friends attempted to sabotage me. I had years of non-profit work destroyed for no discernible reason. The end result of going above and beyond for the people I had loved and cared about has always seemed the same – daggers in our backs and spit in our faces. The world has truly been a thankless place, and it’s all taken a terrible toll on us spiritually.
I went through most of my 20s as a perpetual optimist and upbeat person. There was not a drop of depression in me. Beneath it, I’d been on the start of a slow spiritual slide throughout most of my 30s, long before covid ever happened and the world went mad. Cancer rocked my world, but it was the tip of the iceberg. The sum of all that my family and I have been through over the past decade has been exhausting. So much so that I left 2019 at a spiritual zero. I wanted nothing more than a peaceful and uneventful 2020 and years after. What we’ve all been witness to the past few years has been incomprehensible and downright demonic. Yet all that’s been happening in the world was not even the worst of it for me.
My final “black pilling” came in October of 2021 when I was gripped by a serious second cancer scare. Unlike many previous recurrences that are head games, this time there was a real physical mass that I felt, which was disconcerting. I booked a scan for the first time in many years and waited nervously for 3 weeks to get it checked out.
The sheer insanity of the rest of the world tends to fade away when you’re worried if you’ll even be around in another month or not. And that’s when those old demons found their way back into my head, and I once again wondered if it would be easier to just end it all myself.
The Gentle Hand of God and the Whisper In My Ear
So there I sat in my basement after everyone else in the house had gone to bed. Allowing myself some private time to grieve a tiny fraction of all the pain I had been keeping inside. Tears began falling for my country and for all the world and humankind. Also, for all the before unthinkable levels of evil and wickedness that have been seen by us. All the while wondering, how it could even be so? Tears fell for my children, horrified as a parent of the world they’re soon going to inherit, and wondering what I had done to fail them? Still more tears as a cancer survivor, once again fearing for my life in uncertainty, terrified that I would not be around to help guide them. Children need their fathers and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I did something I had never done before and cried aloud to Jesus to save me from all that had been tormenting me inside. That’s when it happened; I was alone in my cold basement, but all a sudden felt warmth on my right shoulder and a whisper in my ear that said, “it will be okay.” I was completely startled by this, and in that instant every last bit of my anxiety left me, replaced with an incredible sense of peace and calm. In past fighting of anxiety attacks and other traumatic episodes not once did I ever have anything stop inner pain dead in its tracks like this. I cannot pretend to know whether what I experienced in that moment was the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit reaching into my mind, or an angel. All I know is that I cried aloud to Jesus for help and actually heard and felt an answer.
At that moment there was complete peace in my soul because I knew I wasn’t alone. I’ll never forget this moment, and that’s when I knew I had to get back to church.
It All Started With The Bible
I had already started feeling more connected to God than ever before throughout 2021. This was thanks to a friend that had gifted me a Bible to read after talking about current events. My friend served as a strong witness to Christ for me. I admired his confidence and belief in God and knew this was what I needed. I felt the desire to learn the Word for the first time in my life with all my heart and soul.
I was given a Bible to read in Catholic Sunday school as a child but did not know where to begin. I was just a young boy and didn’t have the guidance to properly learn. I wasn’t ready for it all back then, but I was now, after all that my family and I suffered through. I was spiritually broken and I needed a physician for my soul.
I began reading the Gospel and letters of John, the epistles of Paul, and much of the Old Testament. I kept feeling like they written in the present day! I’ve learned so much about the history of humanity, how God works, and the true nature of the world that we live in. I know what the resurrection of Christ means, and that the end has already been written. Everything that I’ve ever worried about or struggled with has answers in the Bible. It’s truly the greatest story ever told and a wealth of wisdom for all time. The Bible is our user’s guide to life, a blessing from our Creator Himself. Yet, I knew that I needed a body of believers to help heal my broken body.
25 Years of Wandering Sinai
I had been invited by various friends to attend FCF Church during dark times in years past but had always politely declined. I didn’t think this or any church could have anything to offer me. But in light of recent experiences, I felt called to this church somehow. I knew nothing of about this one – not its Pastor nor denomination. It was a completely blank slate to me, but somehow I knew I had to be there, and that this was the day.
After making the choice to go, and settling in, I was swept away by the opening service song, “The Church Is Alive”, and it most certainly felt alive. I had never heard such amazing Christian worship music in my entire life. The atmosphere felt electric and had me welling up with tears as the band played on. It was beautiful, and unlike anything I had ever seen, felt, or heard. Imagine being at rock bottom and feeling completely dejected, but in an instant cranking up to 11. That’s what it felt like, spiritual defibrillation bringing me back to life abundant.
Pastor Pete describes the FCF music as “authentic love that’s freely expressed,” but for myself, it’s even better and far more powerful than that. I know different people need different things and have different expectations about what a church is and should be, but I needed that energy.
The Sermon That Changed My Life
What followed this healing music was the most important part of this story for me. I cannot overstate how powerful the sermon was that day. This was second in a series on “Earthquake Shakings” titled, “What Are God’s Methods.” In it we learned of life-changing events that we face, all the while referencing passages of Scriptures that tell of earthquakes.
The sermon centered around the story of the prophet Elijah fleeing from Jezebel, hundreds of miles into the wilderness. I recently read this passage and thought it interesting, but couldn’t bring it to life to comprehend it like the sermon did. In it, Elijah had killed all 450 of the Baal worshipers after a fiery display from the Lord. This should have turned Jezebel back to the Lord, instead, she was more emboldened in worshiping Baal and vowed to kill Elijah the very next day. Fearing for his life, Elijah fled into the wilderness.
The two key verses of the sermon were the following.
1 Kings 19:4
 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (ESV)
1 Kings 19:11–12
 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. (ESV)
The core point of the sermon was that God works in other ways besides massive displays of power. All people wonder why if God is all-knowing and powerful, then how could He allow suffering and trials in our world and not put a stop to them? As Randy explained, God knows that the human heart cannot be penetrated through fear, force, and bribery. God is trying to get Elijah to understand what His methods are to pull him out of this dark place. God is about reaching into human hearts and not about forcing people to conform.
God was not in the wind that was so powerful that it was ripping mountains apart. He was not in the earthquake that was tearing the earth. Nor was he in the fire. He was the whisper in Elijah’s ear, teaching Elijah, and all us, that God is often in the background working quietly, even when it’s not understood.
Evil is being allowed for a little while until it’s abolished forever when Jesus returns and the New Heaven and New Earth are established, free from sin.
 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (ESV)
There’s a fixed day in which the Lord will return and judge this world. When that day comes, evil will be no more. As Randy put it, God is building skyscrapers and not sandcastles, and that takes a little longer. God is calling his children home and wants those that will seek and obey Him, so that He can whisper to us. Was this the lesson that I was unable to learn and keep close to my heart?
“Godpilled” And Reborn
As Pastor Randy concluded and went to prayer, I was awestruck at how everything made complete sense. At that moment I felt the peace in my soul that I had longed to feel for so long in this fallen world.
Randy stated in the second service of the day that he felt like something was happening that day and that he’d felt it in both services. I was a part of that energy, and that it was God’s “whisper” to me that brought me into the church that day for the first time. God meant for me to hear this sermon, by this Pastor, in this church, and on that day, because it completely transformed me. The whole experience from start to finish spoke directly to what was in my soul. There’s no other possible explanation to me than the hand of God at work. I was reborn on that day and exited church for the first time in 25 years a changed man and a born-again believer in Christ.
I didn’t think that Jesus was the answer or that His Word had anything to offer me when all along everything that I’ve struggled with is explained in the Bible. I didn’t think the Church had anything to offer me yet it brought to me the community of a family that I have always needed my adult life. I didn’t think a Pastor could pull so many parts of scripture together and bring them to life in a completely relevant way to the times of spiritual warfare. I was in tears on many occasions in the short time that I have been faithfully attending. I felt that God knew every bit of my pain and so much of what I’d been feeling, while also revealing to me how to patiently endure and overcome it all while living a Godly life.
Those monotonous 15 minutes sermons that I remembered while young in the Catholic church never worked for me. Pastor Randy’s sermons are almost always over 50 minutes but are unforgettable. It is in the way he brings so much Godly wisdom to life from the Word and the knack he has for approaching and talking about difficult topics. Pastor Randy is engraced by God to bring the word alive into our hearts and souls as he can, and I always feel like I could keep listening all day. His sermon that day was exactly what I needed to hear, and exactly when I needed to hear it. It rescued me from something awful, and I was set upon a new, narrow path that day.
If you are a current or former “lost sheep” like myself or even a non-believer, it’s never too late to return to the fold after many years, or even for the first time. Do not doubt how profound a difference that complete trust and faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can make in your life. Especially when paired with the right church and Pastor. I am living proof of that right now as a new creature.
If you’re feeling lost or hopeless in this fallen world as I had been, I encourage you to seek God and the church. Yes, there are unfortunately some churches “of the world” out there that have been subverted, and that do not boldly proclaim the Gospel. Avoid these like the plague that they are, and pray for mercy for them. We’re blessed that Pastor Randy dares to preach the hard Biblical truths and to speak out against the contentious issues of our time. You might have to church shop a bit, or even drive out of your area as I do. Ask around and ask friends that you trust, but do not give up hope. It is worth the effort to find a good church to receive the Word and the spiritual nourishment that we all need in this fallen world. Also to find and build fellowship with other like-minded and God-fearing Christians.
I felt hopeless in finding a good church closer to home. I felt so alienated for years in my area, like a stranger living in a strange land, but as it turns out I didn’t have to look for a church at all. After I had cried out to Him, The Good Shepherd led me straight to where I needed to be. I am blessed to have been put where I needed to be, when I needed it most. The hand of God that I felt, was working quietly throughout, exactly like that whispering.
Pastor Randy shared this verse in the closing of his sermon that day, which also spoke volumes to me.
 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.  Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; (ESV)
God knows what’s best for all us. He is the light and the way and has a plan for all, and that couldn’t be more clear to me now. I regret ever leaving the church, and having been away for 25 years. It was a terrible mistake, and now one of my few regrets in life. There’s so much I’ve missed, and so many things in life that would have been so much easier to bear had I never left and gotten lost.
This was the day I put my full faith in Christ, and that He secured my loyalty. The more I learn to lean on God and the word, the more my worries of the world dissipate, as had been shown to me so many times in the past. All my anxiety and depression has been fading because now I know the end of this story, and that He has already won.
It’s my hope that hearing my testimony might help others find their own faith and trust in Christ as well, and the inner peace it will bring.
You can find that peace too.
Funny enough, my cancer scan turned out fine, like I was told it would be. What I’d felt was a lymphocele that had formed, and not a cause for concern. Praise Godand his mysterious ways!
I wanted to take a moment to thank one particular man of God that helped lead me back to Christ.
To Gab.com Founder and CEO, Andrew Torba for your bold and unapologetically Christian leadership, which planted the seed when I joined the Gab platform back in 2018. Weak men create hard times. Torba is the tip of the spear among the new generation of strong Christian men that will help lead us back to good times. Can you even name another tech CEO that shares in the joy of his brethren? Thank you.
Steve Pake resides in Montgomery County, MD with his wife and two children. Steve is a decade long survivor of testicular cancer, and is a former award winning cancer blogger. You can read dozens of articles about young adult cancer and mental health, and coming soon his new series of writings on Christianity and returning to the faith, at his website StevePake.com