Monday, January 6, 2014

From Astrologist to Apologist: A Testimony

In her amazing testimony, Marcia Montenegro describes her unprecedented metamorphosis from professional astrologer into Christian apologist. She had been very active in the New Age movement for twenty years and had practiced astrology for eight years. Yet the longevity of her entrenchment in the occult did not prevent God from pursuing her, even when her conversion may have seemed unlikely by earthly standards. 

Marcia recounts how an “unexplained compulsion” caused her to begrudgingly walk into a church one Sunday. For some time, she had resisted the urge to act on this compulsion with all her might. She hated Christianity and feeling this strange and undeniable compulsion had made her angry. But she couldn't shake the feeling as much as she tried, so eventually she decided to give in, hoping that doing so would get it out of her system. This decision was to become the beginning of a transformation in Marcia she would never have expected. She recalls her experience:
In the opening minutes of a service in a large church in downtown Atlanta, I felt a love I had never known wash down over and through me, so powerfully that I started quietly crying. I knew this love was from God, not from the music, the people, or the place. I returned the following Sunday, not to have another experience, but so that I could be where that love had happened to me.
Marcia knew she had experienced the love of a personal God—one whom she did not yet fully believe in or understand. So powerful was her experience of this personal God that she felt compelled to read, and subsequently to study, the Bible. Studying the Word of God would eventually lead her to commit her life to serving Him and to make the difficult, costly decision to give up her careerand her entire lifeas a New Ager. 

Prior to accepting Christ, Marcia had subscribed to a New Age perspective on God. Spiritual counterfeits of the New Age masquerade as the "real" version of God—a plausible alternative to rigid religious doctrine and the "old man in the sky." New Agers claim that they are releasing God from the constraints of religious dogma, freeing him [or the amorphous energy-source that he really is] from a man-made construct that limits, reduces, and distorts. New Age ideas are the result of thinking outside of the religious box! Or are they...? The problem with New Age perspective on God, is that it merely replaces one believe system with another. Through an elaborate voyage of self-exploration to access one's inner truth, the New Age movement seeks to deify the self in place of God. But in actuality, beliefs that are contained within the limits of our earthly imaginations are far more constrained than the transcendent knowledge that can be imparted to us by the One who truly is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Rev 22:13). I'd pick God-sized ideas over self-truth any day!

Rather than seeking self-truth, we are called to fix our eyes on Jesus as the author and perfector of our faith (Heb 12:2). When we seek to know ourselves, it should ultimately be to confront the reality of our sinful state, and our true, deep-seated need for God. As Kevin DeYoung so aptly puts it, "Know God. Know yourself. Know yourself to know your need of God. Know God to know you are not gods." We should point ourselves and others to God and move away from ideas and practices that distract us from centering ourselves on the gospel of Christ.

Perhaps the most tragic downside to the New Age perspective on God is that because theirs is an impersonal God, a mere energy-source, there is no experience of relational love involved. But as Christians, we know that it is the love of God as our Father, that changes everything...

Marcia’s story demonstrates how being exposed to a loving, personal God can touch the heart of an unbeliever. How comforting it must be to someone who's been struggling in their own lonely journey to realize that there is a God that loves each one of us individually, and with whom we can have an interactive relationship. Psalm 139 is my favorite of all the psalms because it illustrates the intimacy of God's love for us so powerfully. Sharing personal stories with unbelievers about the ways in which we have experienced the love of God in our lives can be a powerful witness, especially to those who subscribe to the New Age concept of God as mere form of energy. We can talk about specific ways in which we have experienced this interactive, Father-child relationship through answered prayers, life-transformation, and heart-changes, for example. 

New Agers are trapped in a perpetual struggle to attain spiritual enlightenment through their own efforts—through practicing meditation, hypnotism, yoga, creative visualization, past-life regression, channeling, or other spiritual disciplines. It must be exhausting! Yet as Christians, we can rest in the knowledge that we do not have to strive to attain spiritual fulfillment in our own strength, for we can be confident that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).  It is by grace that we have been saved, through faith, and not by works (Eph. 2:8)—the work of our salvation is already accomplished for us in Christ. For those who are wearied by the futile struggle to achieve spiritual enlightenment through New Age disciplines and practices, or through the lonely process of self-actualization, this news can offer a powerful sense of relief.  We can prayerfully share with them the truth that they can be justified by faith, and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).

Prayer is the most important thing we can do for unbelievers who are caught up in the New Age movement or in a quest to self-actualize. As Marcia was to find out later, it was the prayers of her Christian coworker and his small group that had been answered that day she felt an unexplained compulsion to walk through those church doors. When things seemed impossible, the prayers of the faithful were answered in a powerful, unprecedented way. Now Marcia is a full-time missionary and founding director of Christian Answers for the New Age (and a personal friend of mine).

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