Conversations with Christians

Posted on 14. Aug, 2011 by in uncategorized

Two friends from St. Louis are devout Christians. I’ve interviewed them both here.

Craig Leonard

Craig was my best friend in college. We pledged a social fraternity together at UMSL. We came from similar social backgrounds (criminals and drug dealers), and we both joined the fraternity to get away from that. We were good friends from the start. We both got really involved in the fraternity. We did all the party publicity. We were face figures for the organization, known around campus and in the gym. We were known fraternity athletes in campus intramurals and inter-fraternity competition. In 2002 I was elected president of the fraternity, and Craig was largely my right-hand man. In 2003 he was elected president. People mix us up all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I came around that old scene and people called me “Craig” and him “Colin.”

After graduating our lives went in different directions. I spent a couple years in Corporate America living with my college sweetheart, who I almost married. When our relationship broke down I went back to bartending in St. Louis, and slowly drifted back to hanging out with criminal types and drugs. Craig married his college sweetheart, and one day turned his life over to Jesus Christ. I’ve watched his faith grow over the years. He’s nothing less than devout. He has two daughters with his wife, and they’re expecting a third. Here’s the interview:

ME: Was there one moment or event that caused you to turn to God and Jesus Christ? What was it?

CRAIG: I believe that every Christian should be able to point to a single moment when they realized their need for salvation and submitted their life over to Christ. Acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior first requires a humble and contrite spirit that brings a person to the point that they are willing to admit that they have fallen short of God’s standard for their life, will repent of their sins, and accept the free gift of salvation that was provided by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

My personal conversion was one that is hard to put into words that someone who has not experienced it could fully understand. The Holy Spirit works on the “lost” in a variety of ways in order to soften their hearts to the point where they are ready to accept God and run into his loving arms. What works for one person is different than what will work for others. Some need to be scared straight, others need to experience a level of hopelessness that drives them to seek God, while still others will need something entirely different.

It was a certain level of fear, along with my pondering the purposelessness of life, that brought me to my knees in a hotel room in Chicago, IL. It was June of 2006 and the current events were a little unsettling at the time. The turmoil in the middle east was at a boiling point as Hamas and Israel were waging war against one another and there was constant talk of the U.S. invading Iran. The constant reports of those being killed, along with the threat of many more, made me start thinking, “What if that were me? What would happen if I were to die by a rogue terrorist bombing, in a fluke plane crash, or in some other unexpected incident? Where would I spend eternity? Is there a way to really know that I can go to heaven?”

This series of events in my life led me to a feeling of mild depression that lasted on and off for a few weeks, but I would always come back to the idea of eternity, and having an intense desire to know if there was more to life than just the brief amount of time allotted to man on earth. Like I said, the Holy Spirit works on people in a variety of ways and, at this point, He had softened my heart to the point that I was ready to hear the Good News that is the Gospel of Christ.

After a long day at work I was sitting in my hotel room flipping through the channels on the television. I happened to come across a preacher that was giving a message about finding hope and purpose in this life – and of the assurance of eternal life in heaven with God. This preacher explained that all have sinned and are undeserving of anything but judgement, but that God, in his love for us, sent his son to live the perfect life that we could never live and willingly give his life as the just punishment for all of the sins of mankind.

This proclamation of God’s love for me was enough to bring me to tears and fall to my knees in prayer. I didn’t know much about prayer at the time, but I essentially told God that I was broken and ready to accept him and live life his way and not mine. I professed my sincere sorrow for all of the sinful and downright evil things I had done and asked for His forgiveness. This was the moment that I turned my life over to God and accepted Jesus Christ and my personal Lord and Savior.

ME: You were a star athlete in high school. You had lots of girls. You were always a “cool” guy, an alpha male type. Do you think it’s important to have guys like you out front and visible to bring in similar guys? Why or why not?

CRAIG: People are certainly more receptive to others who they are comfortable with. I think that former athletes would have an easier time developing friendships with those from similar backgrounds. As to the importance of having a certain type of person in a church for the purpose of “recruitment”, I am not sure that it necessarily applies. After all, it was a 70 year old preacher that brought me into God’s family.

When it comes to secular organizations I feel that having traits similar to those you are hoping to recruit is much more important than it is in a church setting. The reason is that, in most instances, people are not going to accept Christ because they have a lot in common with a believer. While that can certainly help open the door to conversing about spiritual matters, as I stated in my opening to the first question, accepting Christ is a decision that is between a person and God – not between one person to another like you would find in secular organizations like a fraternity or sorority. In secular organizations people require a belief in another person. Christianity only requires a belief in (and dependence upon) Jesus Christ.

There are committed believers that come from every walk of life and every Christian should have little problem connecting with other believers who share a similar background. For instance, in my Sunday School class of around 20 men, we have a few avid bodybuilders, a NCAA football national champion and several other college athletes. We also have several men who would be considered to be anything but athletic that I have developed meaningful relationships with.

ME: Are there less “cool guys” in religion? What would you say to guys like us who may have a “too cool for school” attitude?

CRAIG: “Cool” is a very subjective word that carries a different meaning to different people. I happen to consider many of my Christian friends to be “cool”. They may not carry a chip on their shoulder, use foul language, drink excessively, have multiple sex partners, or any other action that is commonly portrayed as being cool in our society, but they are real, honest, caring, and live with an uncompromising set of values and sense of purpose. That to me is very cool.

ME: What do you think of the saying, “If you’re scared, go to church”?

CRAIG: Going to church is not a cure for fear. Fear is an emotion that God certainly uses to make people realize their need for Him, but church itself is not necessarily a cure for fear. A deeply rooted faith in God is the only true cure of fear that I know. When you are acutely aware of God’s involvement in your life, and assured of your eternal destiny, fear takes a back seat to trust.

If someone is fearful of their eternal destiny, and needs counseling on beginning their relationship with the Lord, most churches would be a great place to start.

ME: What does your church do for community service and tackling social problems? How can people get involved?

CRAIG:There are dozens of programs that are run at my church with about 800 members to reach out to our community and help those in need. I couldn’t list them all, but here are several of them:

Feed My Starving Children – Church members donate money that is used to purchase dry foods such as rice and cereal. The members of my church then spend two full days bagging the food into meal rations to be sent to Haiti to help feed its children that are in need of food. I believe close to $10,000 was donated this year which led to something like 50,000 meals being provided to needy children in Haiti.

Homeless Outreach – We have a group of men and women who travel to downtown St. Louis every Saturday night to offer food, prayer and companionship to the city’s homeless.

Food Pantry Help – Dozens of our members regularly volunteer to work at local soup kitchens to help feed those in need and provide a place of warmth and shelter during the winter months.

Rehabilitation Programs and Support Groups – Our church offers support groups for people that are recovering from lives damaged by abortion, divorce, alcoholism, homosexuality and rape, to name a few. The purpose of these groups is to provide hope and encouragement for those who need it.

Mexico Housing Project – A team of church members use funds (donated by church members) to purchase materials and then travel to Mexico to build homes for families who do not have a home to live in. This project has also extended into the building of new churches in Mexico as well.

These are just a few of the many social outreach programs that are conducted at my church. It is easy to get involved. We have a weekly bulletin that is announced in our Sunday School classes each week and a monthly newsletter is mailed to church members as well. I believe their is a calendar of events on our website as well.

ME: There have been many gay, pedophile Catholic priests in the news. And in To Catch a Predator many offenders are pastors or otherwise active in their churches. Ted Haggard of megachurch New Life in Colorado Springs was outed as having a gay prostitute in Denver. Do you think religion gets a bad rap for sexual deviance? Is it higher among Christianity than the general population?

CRAIG:I haven’t seen any statistics on this, but I am hard pressed to believe that homosexual deviance is more rampant within the Christian community than the general population. It is one of those things where a Christian committing acts such as these are big news, whereas the typical gay American gets little or no recognition for these kinds of actions.

It really is a shame that sexual deviance is such a prominent theme in religion today. Regardless of how prominent it is, or whether or not Christians get a bad rap for sexual deviance, we are Christ’s ambassadors to a watching world and it pains me deeply to know that people are going to judge Christianity on the actions of a small percentage of so-called Christians who are not acting consistently with what Christ taught or the Bible teaches.

While authentic Christians are a powerful witness of the love and goodness of God to the unsaved, acts such as those committed by Ted Haggard undoubtedly dampers others’ perceptions of what authentic Christianity truly is.

ME: How is your life different now as a born-again Christian?

CRAIG:I could honestly write an entire book around this question. Those who genuinely put their faith in Christ will experience nothing less than a total transformation. The Apostle Paul explains the change a person experiences after they are born again in 2 Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 5:17: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

This is a perfect description of what I have experienced. My outlook on life, my view of others, how I make decisions, the way I treat my wife, how I use my money – all of these things have been changed from the working of God’s Spirit in my life. In fact, I cannot think of a single area in my life that has not been impacted after my conversion.

The most notable way that my life has been impacted is the relationship that I now have with the Living God. The idea of having a relationship with God seems abstract to unbelievers, I know because that would have sounded like nonsense to me before my 2006 conversion. There is nothing more exciting than when I apply God’s Word to my life and see how it immediately impacts my life and the lives of those around me. There have been countless times when I have asked God for clarity and direction and received an answer. It is extremely humbling to know that the God who created the universe would answer my pleas for help or guidance.

This relationship continues to grow and develop as I understand the character and nature of God more and more each day. This relationship is what Christianity is all about, but a relationship can only be possible when both parties take action. God has displayed his love for us by dying for the perfect forgiveness of our sins and is eagerly waiting for us to accept that gift and enter into a relationship with him.

While my post-conversion life is different in so many ways, my relationship with God, which is the basis of every Christian’s walk, is the most notable difference in my life and is what any person who accepts the Lord’s gift of salvation can also expect to experience.

ME: If you could promise just one thing to my readers, one way their life would be better with Jesus Christ, what would that one thing be?

CRAIG:A new life in which you will no longer be a slave to your own desires, but will continually be transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Craig works as a full-time engineer but his passion is bodybuilding. Check out his website, www.rippedout.com.

Mike Wood

Mike Wood was a top pro at North County Boxing Club, where I trained. He fought at light heavyweight with considerable success. He made a lot of money and achieved fame. I wasn’t as close to him as Craig, but Mike and I did go out drinking a few times. He came to a few frat parties.

By anyone’s definition Mike Wood was a bad mother****er. A fighter coming out of North County St. Louis, he had a tough demeanor. I recently spent a month in St. Louis, and when back home I train at Eagle Gym in Overland. Eagle has a deal with Mike, now retired, to teach personalized boxing lessons. Before I ran into him, I’d heard he was born again and “straight as an arrow.” When I saw him, that tough demeanor was gone. He was nothing but friendly, open, and smiling. A new man. Here’s his testimony:

ME: Was there one moment or event that caused you to turn to God and Jesus Christ? What was it?

MIKE: I realized I needed God in my life when my daughter was on the way. I got her mom pregnant when we were 19 and weren’t married or even together anymore. So I found a church and started praying to God that that she would be perfectly healthy and that I would be able to provide for her. I have been blessed SO much with her I adore everything about her and she’s what makes me strive to be a better person.

ME: You were a professional athlete. You had lots of girls. You were always a “cool” guy, an alpha male type. Do you think it’s important to have guys like you out front and visible to bring in similar guys? Why or why not?

MIKE: I was “the cool guy” and the athlete growing up which was great. Boxing did a lot for me. I achieved a lot from the sport and I am thankful. I also got myself in A LOT of trouble not so much because of boxing and my status, but it just made it a lot easier. When I was boxing I was part of a Christian group of boxers and MMA fighters called the Fighters of Faith. The only problem was I was basically a part-time Christian. I’d give glory to God and have verses on my trunks and websites but then I’d be out partying, drinking, and sleeping with a ton of women – just contradicting everything I’d say. After I retired from boxing I eventually got my life back on track and now I’m where I need to be, always trying to better myself and following Jesus at Have Bible Will Travel church, where I have my own boxing/exercise ministry.

ME: Are there less “cool guys” in religion? What would you say to guys like us who may have a “too cool for school” attitude?

MIKE: There are plenty of people that think they are too cool and don’t need church, but when it comes down to it the death rate here on earth is STILL 100%. You get to choose where you spend eternity, heaven or hell and the only way to heaven is by accepting Jesus as your lord and savior. Basically you can read the bible on your own and believe in God but you need church for the fellowship, to be around other believers and not just worldly people and things. I believe there is a church out there for everyone, I love my church family because they are so REAL and caring and don’t try to put on a SHOW like they’re perfect. Its not about religion because religion is man-made, its about having a relationship with Jesus.

ME: What do you think of the saying, “If you’re scared, go to church”?

MIKE: I don’t really know what to say to that. I never really heard anyone say it. If your scared church is a good place to be because that’s God’s house and fear is a sin.

ME: Do you think it’s important to offer sports in church activities?

MIKE: I do. Anything that will appeal to people to get them in the door to church, ESPECIALLY youths.

ME: There have been many gay, pedophile Catholic priests in the news. And in To Catch a Predator many offenders are pastors or otherwise active in their churches. Ted Haggard of megachurch New Life in Colorado Springs was outed as having a gay prostitute in Denver. Do you think religion gets a bad rap for sexual deviance? Is it higher among Christianity than the general population?

MIKE: You’re right. A lot of churches get a bad rap for the few scumbag pedophile priests that have been exposed. I know you’re not supposed to judge one another, but people like that its REALLY hard not to. But churches and priest helpers etc are all similar in the fact that you have to find the right one at the right place because all aren’t bad.

ME: How is your life different now as a born again Christian?

MIKE: My life has changed completely since growing closer to God – not just my lifestyle but the ways I can feel him working in my life.

ME: If you could promise just one thing to my readers, one way their life would be better with Jesus Christ, what would that one thing be?

MIKE: Honestly I could promise everybody a better life by accepting Jesus, but I don’t need to because its God’s promise and you just gotta have faith in him.

ME: What does your church do for community service and tackling social problems? How can people get involved?

MIKE: They have a benevolence fund to help the needy with utilities, etc. All the deacons and pastors make hospital visits daily, and food pantry. We were a big part of the tornado cleanups this year, this weekend they’re taking backpacks and school supplies down to Joplin for victims to start school with. Anybody can help, our church is Have Bible Will Travel (HBWT).

Have Bible Will Travel
1745 Craig Rd
St. Louis, MO 63146

Check out Mike Wood’s boxing classes at Eagle Gym with pics and video.

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11 Responses to “Conversations with Christians”

  1. Steve

    15. Aug, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this interview. I applaud Mike for finding his faith. For someone like Mike who, admittedly had a problem with drugs and criminality, this is definitely a positive path for him to take in life.

    However, there are many of us who grew up in spiritual households, have a relationship with God but do not need to wear our religion on our sleeves. We show our faith by working hard, being good citizens, raising families but also allowing ourselves to live outside of the rigid conformity of organized religion. I have found that many so-called born again Christians have extreme and intolerant view points (i.e. if you don’t believe the way I do, you’re goin’ to Hell). Born again Christians are actually kind of scary to me and I know a lot of them. Religious extremism in any form (Christianity, Islam, Judiasm) is a dangerous thing.

  2. Daniel

    15. Aug, 2011

    Comming myself from a christian (catholic) background and altough beeing baptized, made my 1st communion and joined church every sunday until my 12/13 year of existence, I have never found god or god me.
    Honestly, sometimes I envy those people… I have tried, researched, talked a lot to people of several religions I`ve met througout my life, etc…but I guess it`s not my time now, perhaps never will be.

    I remember pretty well, I must have been 4 or 5 years old and the teacher in pre-school gave us a bible lesson saying: “God is the father of us all” and I replied: “No, my fathers name is Joao!” (in english John).

    Nonetheless, respect to all that have found spiritual leadership, whose lifes have gotten better and therfore certainly have influenced positively other beeings around them.

  3. Nathan

    15. Aug, 2011

    Thanks for posting this. So good to see transparent and honest answers of those who are still in a close relationship with Jesus. Being a missionary going to work in Bogota next year, sharing the hope that we find in Christ and the ways in which it impacts our life (and others) for eternity is my #1 job description. Amen.
    -Nathan Breyer

  4. Samuel

    15. Aug, 2011

    Interesting post, my friend. As I might have expected, I do see some things in here that smells to me like sort of an automatic dogma… statements like “Fear is a sin” which I would deem to be inaccurate, but is easy to find in church-speak, or church culture. I can appreciate anyone that has a sincere heart to be a good guy and follow the teachings of Christ, for sure. But there’s so many times I just cringe at some of the stuff they say that needs to be taken apart, re-examined, and re-stated. No need for that here at the moment.

    Given these interviews, they would be fun questions for me to answer. I was raised as a Christian, raised in church, and regard myself a Christian today. I was Administrator for over 100 Deacons in a mega-church for several years. I know all the lingo, the cliches, and the doctrines. I have been playing bass guitar at a church for the last 3.5 years as well. I am also an ordained minister and have performed 3 weddings as such.

    Question is, how to reconcile that stuff with the fact that my life doesn’t look very “devout” and probably isn’t going to any time soon.

    I think that simple stuff like trying to be good to people or help someone when you can… and trying not to cause anyone harm… and learning when to keep your mouth shut… can go a long way towards a life that is satisfying- even if we aren’t perfect or devout etc.

    I have some extensive theory on why the church is right about a lot of stuff, as well as the ways they are missing it and failing their congregations, as well as those who might prosper if they were to learn and follow the gospel, if they weren’t turned off by what they see.

    To me, it is absurd to decide that there is no God, as it seems so clear to me that there is… but that concept is so often poorly presented that its no wonder people turn it down or turn away. That can be very discouraging to a ‘seeker’ who is looking for answers…. just as it can be discouraging to want to be a ‘good guy’ or a Christian, yet discover how hard or impossible-seeming it might be to live out the life they think God might want for them.

  5. Daniel

    15. Aug, 2011

    “… but that concept is so often poorly presented that its no wonder people turn it down or turn away. That can be very discouraging to a ‘seeker’ who is looking for answers…” by Samuel on August 15th, 2011

    So true. Couldn`have said it better myself – felt like this all the years I went to church. There was just nothing I could connect to. And when I asked certain things to the priest or the lady that tought us after church, it seems that every answer he/she gave me were those “pre-selected” dogmatic doctrines said to any kid asking similiar questions. And that made no sense to me…

  6. George

    15. Aug, 2011

    conversations with christians?? please say this is a joke or you lost a reader

  7. Rawley

    16. Aug, 2011

    To each his own. I say whatever makes you a better person do it. As long as you don’t use it as a simple tool to put others down and cast a holier than thou judgement of your peers and people around you then go for it.

    Some people really do need that higher standard to aim for and in a way, I aplaud them for going against the grain. If you think about it,really now a days with the over indulgence, selfishness and general chaotic (not cool chaos of the kind you might enjoy) behaviour being the norm here in the States I don’t blame your friends sometimes.

    Of course IMO there is a direct relation between someone who puts down a needle and picks up a bible, or starts doing Yoga 6 hours a day or starts jerking off excessively, and that is simply that some people just are not good at moderation of any kind. Without a strict regimented rules for living some people just fall apart. An extreme version would be people actually appreciating the discipline prison emposes, which isn’t much, but for some people its their first taste of rules ever. Same as some people cut out for military service for long periods of time. Some people operate better under imposed rules and regulations. Some people do not. Some people need something to follow and believe in. We are all weak in our own way.

  8. Rubio

    16. Aug, 2011

    I was baptised catholic, raised evangelical, later on converted back to catholicism, then left all of it alltogether. I’m now of the opinion that if the world continues to follow that sort of stupidity, entropy will set in for the human race in the form of extinction. Sex and drugs are part of how we evolve.

  9. erik

    16. Aug, 2011

    St Francis purportedly said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

    great article colin

  10. mike wood

    17. Aug, 2011

    hey great article colin, i really appreciate it. alot of these statements are correct in a sense. i’m not a perfect christian nor will i ever be bc the only person that will ever be perfect and free of sin is jesus. also alot of the stuff i said you could consider typical christian stuff i take it all in from the msgs my pastor preaches. there are always certain pts in service and bible studies that stick out to me and i really feel i can relate to. i always feel like it was a good service when u feel like they were talkin about u or the “you” that you’re trying to get away from. i admire anyone that was brought up a christian and has went thru the whole process and still tries to walk w/ the lord in all they do. my whole thing was that wasnt me, i always believed in God but wasnt brought up in a church enviroment and never even really prayed. and althought i made HUGE changes in my life i never was a drug addict or criminal, i aint gonna lie and say i never experimented w/ any drugs in high school but that never was my thing. i did have a lil bit of a drinking problem bc when u cant control how much u consume it becomes a prob and even tho i didnt drink as often as alot of my friends i would drink myself retarded when i did drink so it was a prob that i had to overcome. another prob i’ve almost defeated is women, so thats why i included those probs in my answers bc its always better when u can be held accountable for your actions. and my pastor always makes jokes about the holier than thou christians bc the majority of my church makes it known that they have or are currnently in a struggle to beat the devil in certain situations we ALL have our own battles to win and they’re not the same battles for everyone but it does make it alot easier to see someone that has beat similar situations. so alot of ppl might think this is a lame topic or what not but if it touched anybody then it served its purpose.

  11. Anonymous

    20. Aug, 2011

    Well I’m glad he has found something that inspires him, but I’ll go ahead and piss everyone off anyway. Christianity is not the same religion it was 100 years ago or even 20 years ago, and it’s not the same that it will be 20 years from now.

    It is easy to Christian now’days, out are the hellfire and brimstone lectures of the old testament, in is the new testament telling you everything you want to hear – sin as much as you want, acknowledge Jesus as your savior and . . .live forever. It’s a good sales pitch – there’s no downside.

    When I was a kid (probably making me the oldest member of this blog) it was pefectly conventional (for Adventists) to play records backwards in church and listen to messages from . . . Satan. Our “flock” was told that if we went to the movies our “guardian angels” waited outside; I knew many ‘alumni’ who were still terrified of the movies in their 20’s – that’s not a joke.

    Yes, I even became a missionary and traveled all through Mexico “converting” the natives with exciting offers of free meals and other non-sense. Latin America is the primary target for these organizations as, for whatever reason, the people are pre-disposed to pay tithe.

    One could argue that the bible doesn’t change, but it really does, as the reader changes the interpretation of the message changes. I would like to further 8iss everyone off by talking about “Christians” in Peru.

    Having acted as a “hire’er” for a “Christian” outsourcing company by Peruvian Christians, you would not believe the denominational/sexual/sexual preference discrimination I was expected to enforce, or the number of times I was expected to attend group prayer meeting throughout the day, even a holy water blessing for a computer that caught a virus.

    I finally got permission to hire an agnostic and, long story short. His ethics were too high to perform a fair amount of their very deceptive sales copy. They corrected him by telling him that a % of the money made would go to the church, so it was for the “greater good”. Then after one month of his flawless labor as a practicante they told him he could only stay on if he worked on “commission only”, even after they agreed to cash terms – I paid him out of my own pocket. A month later they pulled the same thing on me, I even built a website for them with some graphics I got off a CD on Wilson, they were so stupid that when I finished and took the CD to my room they thought I was stealing it (even though I paid for it) because (this is no joke) they did not realize that images could co-exist in two different places; I had to have their American managers back in the states call them and explain. Grrr. I digress.

    Anyway, having been a brainwashed Christian most of my life, I have a special resentment for them. I know it’s a romantic idea, but, the Garden of Eden, talking snakes, Noah’s Ark – c’mon people.

    Yeah, that’s about it.

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