My Personal Testimony

My name is Jonathan Franzone. I have been married for 18 years (as of this writing). My wife and I have three children. I am the praise & worship leader at my church and have been in church for all of my life. I have been a “Christian” for 39 years and I have realized that I have lived a lie… for far too long. This is my story.

New (Depressing) Year

I was depressed going into 2014. Counsel from my pastor and friends were of great help and encouragement, but none of them provided the answer I needed. Something was terribly wrong with my world. I hated… hated my life. I hated my job. I was disappointed with my resume. I felt like I was unproductive professionally, relationally and spiritually. I’m a Praise & Worship leader and while I didn’t necessarily hate my duties, it was more labor than joy. I received some amount of encouragement from Sunday services, but it was short lived. Some days it didn’t even last past the parking lot.

In the third week of March my family took a trip to Atlanta, Georgia. On the way there I had an experience, which I believe was the beginning of a radical change in my life. I wrote a blog post about it, which you can read in full here: How Fast We Fall.

I had some severe gastrointestinal pain on the way to my sister’s house in Atlanta. I found myself by the side of the road clinging for dear life, trying not to pass out, pain surging through every fiber of my being. I spent the whole weekend on my sister’s couch in pain. I ended the article with this:

I’m not sure why I’ve had to endure the problems with my digestion over the past year. I do know, however, that it reminds me of how fragile this life is. That doesn’t scare me… not completely. My hope is not in anything this world has to offer. It’s not in the strength of my mind or my body. It’s not even in my family or relationships. My hope is in Jesus Christ and the knowledge that my name is written forever in the Book of Life.

In Search of Edification

I lived through the experience and we returned home. I continued searching for relief from the undertow of emotion that constantly pulled me down. It was different now. There was an urgency to find something that would break through the darkness, something that would last more than a few hours or days. I felt as if my very life depended on it.

Earlier in the year, I had watched a debate between notorious atheist, Bill Nye “the science guy” and Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis. I found the debate intellectually stimulating and sought to find similar material. I ran across the Creation Today show, produced in my home town. That led me to The Comfort Zone with Ray Comfort, which I really enjoyed and began watching religiously (still do). During one episode Stuart Scott (a.k.a. Scotty) mentioned a series of sermons on heaven by John MacArthur. Heaven sounded uplifting, so I found the Grace to You website and the heaven series.

While browsing the Grace to You website I noticed an interesting looking banner. It lead to a site devoted to a conference held by John MacArthur and his ministry in October, 2013. The topic looked controversial.

It turned out to be life changing.

Strange Fire

It was the beginning of April when I began watching video sessions from the Strange Fire Conference. The description stated that it “evaluate[d] the doctrines, claims, and practices of the modern charismatic movement, and affirm[ed] the true Person of the Holy Spirit.”

Dr. MacArthur shocked me by the things he said. He spoke of beliefs that I’d long held as foundational to the Christian faith. He spoke as if they were heresy. He pointed his finger directly at me and I could not stop watching.

I watched over the following days while I worked. I watched in the evenings when my wife was busy doing something else. I did this in secret. My wife grew up believing many of the same things that I did; our religious backgrounds were much the same. I knew she might suffer as I did when confronted, so I kept my secret. I wanted to see it through to the end, to make a final judgment, and then present my findings.

I experienced shock and then fear. These men spoke with authority. The things they said rang with truth. I could find no error in the way they used Scripture to support their message. Halfway through the series I was mostly on board; it just made sense. I determined then that I would purchase the Strange Fire book and read it.

On April 15 I finished watching the videos and immediately began devouring the book. I finished the day before Easter. Initially I planned on writing out a testimony, similar to this, as a means of kick-starting the conversation with my wife. I could not wait that long. That evening I told Aubrey about the conference, the book and how it had changed my thinking.

Self-Evaluation

What if everything I thought I knew about the Christian faith was wrong? What if my salvation was not as secure as I thought? What if I was not saved at all? These are the questions that rang in my head as I experienced Strange Fire. The messages cast new light on my past. Memories changed from bright lights of faith to dark moments of experientialism and self-righteousness. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says to, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” That is what I did.

Walking Away

Aubrey and I lived in Tallahassee, FL for three years. During our time there I walked away from the faith. This falls somewhere in the middle of my journey, so it is a bit out of order here at the beginning. It is, however, the point at which I began my self-evaluation. If ever there was a time that I was not saved, that was it.

It just dawned on me one day that I really didn’t believe any of that nonsense. How could an old, dusty book, compiled by so many authors over so many years, be true? How could there be a God? I walked away completely. My only regret was that I had married a woman that thought I was a Christian. I loved her and it was a betrayal to tell her that I no longer believed in God, but tell her I did.

During more recent years I’ve come to believe in the “assurance of salvation.” Reflecting back on this period I chalked it up to a “dry spell.” God needed to strengthen my faith, right? Now I know that I was not saved at all. I had no remorse for the lost faith and I was happy with who I was. Of course, if is true that I wasn’t saved then, then I was not saved at any point before then. And that means…

In Search of the “Spirit Filled” Life

I grew up in the United Methodist church. It was full of sweet, blue-haired ladies who could cook a mean casserole and old men that loved softball. That denomination has some weird rotating pastor policy, so we received new pastors quite frequently. One of them was even a woman. When I was in high school I believed that I had heard the audible voice of God… literally. I thought God was calling me to be a pastor. The church I attended fully supported me in this. They sent me to a youth leadership conference in Kentucky and even let me preach a sermon… as a teenager.

It is at this same church that I was “baptized by the Holy Spirit.” My family attended a weekly bible study led by the pastor. The main topic, at least that I can remember, was the book of Revelation and end times. He must have also introduced the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and gifts of the Spirit because I asked him how I might experience this “greater blessing.” He obliged, leading me in prayer one evening and coached me in speaking in tongues for the first time.

Not long after that, I became dissatisfied with the old, dusty services and sought out churches that were more “spirit filled.” I found a welcome home in youth services at Pace Assembly of God.

The Brownsville Revival

Fast forward to college (Pensacola Junior College) and I left that Methodist church, dragging my family with me, to Brownsville Assembly of God. We were there just in time to get comfortable before the Brownsville Revival (Pensacola Outpouring) in 1995. I was involved in the youth praise & worship team. My family and I were all swept away in the torrent of the movement and I can remember weeknight services that ran until dawn.

Many were “slain in the spirit” and experienced “miraculous” touches from God. I wanted it too. I did not want to succumb to emotionalism or a false experience, however, so I stood for hours, night after night, praying for God to move in my life. I wanted a touch from God. It finally happened. I went down under the spirit and experienced convulsions that shook me like a rag doll. Some friends told me afterwards that I barely touched the ground, continuously rebounding back into the air. Afterwards I had “the shakes” for three days, during which I could not control sudden jerks and spasms. It even woke me from sleep. This had to be God. Right?

As mentioned previously, I walked away from the faith while living in Tallahassee, after the Brownsville Revival. That means I was not a Christian when this happened. Now if you’re saying to yourself that I just lost my salvation in Tallahassee and then got it back again when we returned, then that is another discussion. Suffice to say, that was not the case. The instability of salvation is one of the heresies that abound in the Methodist and charismatic churches.

Where was I? … Oh, not saved. So what had I experienced? Was it a touch of God’s Spirit or another? If I was not a child of God then I most assuredly was not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I’ve since come to the conclusion that I was either extremely self-deluded, under some form of hypnosis or under the influence of demonic spirits. That is, to be honest, quite terrifying.

Marriage and a Vineyard

My wife and I were married on May 18, 1996 at Christian Life Church (CLC) in Milton, FL. We decided to attend church at CLC instead of Brownsville, probably one of God’s many graces. A year after being married we decided to finish college, so we left Pensacola to attend Florida State University.

After much searching, we found a home at a Vineyard church. We became a part of the praise and worship team and found friends. I think as far as Vineyard church’s go, we probably had a fairly conservative one (another grace from God). I’d say the two biggest problems we faced were a pastor and wife that desperately wanted a “move of God” in the church and a worship leader that loved the world. The worship leader was fired for misappropriation of funds and the pastor and his wife eventually left for the “mission” field.

It was during our time at this church that I came to the startling conclusion that I no longer believed in “all that bunk” about God, the Bible and a resurrected Jesus.

Returning Home

In 2000 we moved back to Pensacola, FL and returned to Christian Life Church. We went through a new member’s class since neither of us had before. At the end of the class we were required to sign a statement of faith, which I could not do. I met with the associate pastor and he suggested several books. One of these was The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

I read it and another, and eventually came back to “the faith”. No fireworks attended my re-conversion. I just said a prayer and believed. Or did I? The things I read provided proof or evidence of the Bible and for Jesus. They made sense to me. They were rational, so I believed them. Is that really what true conversion is?

My wife felt disconnected at CLC and wanted to search for another church, one where we could have relationships that went beyond the surface. I didn’t care all that much. I didn’t have any friends and as an introvert I didn’t think I needed any. The church experienced some controversy and it was clear that we needed to go, God’s grace in action again.

After visiting a few churches we settled on Northridge Church for a time. It never really felt like home. We placed our daughter in Aletheia Christian Academy for a couple of years, during which we made friends with parents of other students. We were invited to a home group, which led us to Grace Community Church and that has been our home (a good home) ever since.

Living the Good Life

We weren’t at Grace Community Church long before we became involved with the music. We must have “musician” tattooed on our foreheads. After about a year, we were asked to take over leadership of the praise and worship team, which we have done. We have been involved in multiple ministries including praise & worship, hospitality, children and youth, men’s and women’s ministries. We have made dear friends that I hope to maintain for the rest of my life. I have grown in my knowledge of the Bible and experienced a very “fruitful” period in my Christian walk.

So what’s the problem?

A True Conversion

Starting Over

In John chapter 3 we read about Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who comes to Jesus by night and tries to broach a conversation to see who Jesus really is (I’m paraphrasing). Jesus tells him that unless he is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. John MacArthur does an excellent job explaining this passage and it is his explanation that sealed the deal for me. Nicodemus thought he knew God. He thought he knew the law and how to keep it. Jesus calls him the “teacher of Israel”; he was probably one of the head Pharisees. By telling Nicodemus that he needed to be born again, Jesus was saying that he had to give up everything that he knew; he had to become like an infant.

That is the experience I had while reading Strange Fire, watching the conference videos and reading subsequent books such as The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul and The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur. Everything that I thought I knew about being a Christian was a lie. My entire life of Christianity was a lie. In the parable of the prodigal son, I was the one who stayed out in the field, laboring in vain, while inwardly despising and dishonoring the Father. All my efforts were revealed as self-righteous, filthy rags… worthless to save. My view of the church, especially in America, shrank before my very eyes. Christian personalities who I once thought were legitimate were revealed as false teachers and antichrists, wolves among the sheep.

Shaken to the core and terrified, I began to evaluate my life. The more I reflected, the smaller I became. My need for a savior, a real savior, pressed in on me. Seeing God for the first time, for the holy and just God that he is, I found myself sobbing in anguish over my sin and crying out to God, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” I believe it was then, during the month of April 2014, that I became a truly regenerated child of God.

The Proof is in the Pudding

How can I know I wasn’t saved earlier in life? Perhaps I’m just now “catching the fire”, experiencing a spiritual high? The most telling evidence of all can be found in the Psalms.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting!
Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV)

I’ve known of this verse for a long time, not because I loved it, but because I hated it. I would not dare to pray those verses in truth. I didn’t need God to find the grievous (or wicked) ways in my heart. I knew exactly what they were and I wasn’t willing to give them up. I didn’t believe I could give them up. I was also somewhat misinformed about the manner of God’s grace. All things are permissible after all, right? Even if they aren’t beneficial?

I am different now. I have changed. I pray that verse with a passion and I seek out ways to uproot sin and evil in my life. One example is theft. Thou shalt not steal, right? I have long taken advantage of my technical prowess (I.T.) and had no second thoughts about illegally copying digital media. I’ve copied audio CDs and DVDs. I’ve downloaded pirated content. I’ve distributed such copied materials like candy to friends and family. Shortly after my conversion I was convicted of this and spent about four days purging my computers of illegal content. I also apologized to my family and asked their forgiveness for being such a father that would lead his wife and children into sin. That was not the only repentance, just one in many.

I have a new passion and His name is Jesus! I always thought He was my passion, but how much time did I ever spend reading His Word? Not much. Most time was spent entertaining myself with video games, shows, movies and fiction novels. My taste for those has waned almost to their extinction. I now love reading the Bible like never before. I love studying the Bible and listening to the preaching of God’s Word. I think about Christ and what He’s done for me often. I have a newfound desire to teach God’s Word to my family. I have a desire to pray that I have never known, perhaps because I know more than ever what is at stake. I’ve even shared the gospel with a complete stranger. It is the first time I can ever remember initiating a conversation about God with an intent to share the Gospel.

I am a new creation!

Please don’t hear me saying that I am perfect. I am not. I have to battle sin just like all of God’s children. The difference is, now I’m actually battling.

Living as a Berean

At first I wondered why God would allow me to live such a long time as a hypocrite, a modern day Pharisee. I’ve been in church all my life. I preached a sermon in my youth. I’ve lead God’s people in praise and worship. I’ve prayed for and in front of God’s people. I have, in fact, been in a position of leadership within the church as an unbeliever. I cringe to think of how many people I may have influenced from a position of unrepentance and spiritual death. I cannot know the actual reason, other than because it is God’s sovereign will. I do know what it has produced.

Fear of the Lord

Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” I’ve always been confused by the concept of fearing God. I am no longer confused. I have a tangible, personal experience of that fear. I could have been one of those whom Jesus spoke of when He said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” For me, fear isn’t some pious exaltation and reverence of God. It is FEAR! I do not want to hear those words and be cast into hell. I want eternal life with my Lord and my Savior.

Discernment

Acts 17:11 says, “the Berean Jews were of more noble character… for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” I have believed so many fallacies as a false-convert that I am extremely hesitant to take anyone at his word. Now I search the Scriptures to make sure what I read is true. I research speakers to see where they come from, what they teach and to make sure I’m not listening to “mostly truths” with a little “false teaching” sprinkled in. I read books and listen to sermons critically, searching for any spec that is contrary to the Word of God.

Knowing the Truth

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

In order that I may listen and read critically, I need to know what the Scriptures say. I have a lot of catching up to do. I want to know the Word of God better than anything else in my life. I have taken steps to correct this mistake and am thoroughly enjoying the journey.

Truth

In short, I now know the truth and the truth has set me free. Nothing but the truth will satisfy me. Do you know the truth? Are you studying God’s Word diligently? Have you completely submitted your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? If so, then we are brothers and sisters in the same cause and I pray that these words do not cause division, but restoration… of the truth.

References

Websites

Books

  • jamie andrews

    Very interesting. Our paths parallel each other in ways. I respect your humbleness in writing this. I too crave the word and find myself checking words of preachers and others against the holy bible. I am on a mission based on a recent experience at a chuch I no longer attend to call out such a false teacher. The mega churches that are purpose driven and or seeker driven are blinding many. Wolves are coming in sheeps clothing and performing marvelous acts. It is very scary. Google Fighting for the Faith and listen to some of Chris Rosebrough’s podcasts which expose some of these false prophets.

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