My Encounter With God

Ken-Bruggeman-York-PA-2017-Chasing-Light-Ministries-Head-Shot-Color-Blue-Buffalo-T-Shirt.jpg

God's legacy is found in our history. His goodness and power are evident in the transformation of our lives for His glory.

This is my journey.

My awareness of God's calling on my life began when I was around 8 years old. I didn't come from a family where faith was particularly emphasized. But my Mother did impress upon us that we needed to be involved at church. I am grateful to her for that. Growing up, I attended the Episcopal church where I was very active in service. I was involved with the youth group and served as an acolyte (or altar boy). As any young man behaves, whether in church are out of church, we all joked around a lot and didn't take church very seriously. But I found myself, instead of being bored or falling asleep during the services as many of the others did; I was drawn into the words of the sermon. And I would find myself thinking about those words long after I left church was over. I found myself pondering deep questions about God. Wondering about the depths of the universe and creation. Wondering how if God created everything, who created God? Things of that nature. I was riveted by these questions and in my desire for answers, I found myself wanting to know more and came to the conclusion that the answer was in serving God full-time. At 8 years old I told my Mom that I wanted to become clergy in the church. As I'm sure she thought, the next week I would also want to be a Disney animator, (which I did) or a police officer, (which I did). But I pressed this issue enough that she set a meeting with the reverend of the church. During that meeting I told him that I wanted to be what he was and do what he did. To my surprise his response was cold and hard. It was a reaction I didn't expect, nor had I seen this side of him before. He responded that I did not know what I was asking and that I wanted nothing to do with that life; that I didn't know what I was getting into. This was the first of what would become a number of disillusionments to me of service to God.

A few years later my family moved to a neighborhood and our home was next to a family who had the appearance of the Normal Rockwell picture perfect American family. Long-time married parents, 3 children and a dog. The oldest son was the all-state star quarterback of the football team. The daughter, a popular cheerleader and the entire family very active in their church. I became fast friends with the youngest son who is two years older than me. We quickly found that we enjoyed each other's company but more so that we were able to speak openly and freely about God together and our hearts both burned for Him. I began attending Boy Scouts at their church and eventually became friends with many of the youth from the church. I was invited to attend church with them and I did, with my parents permission. It was at the first church service that I attended, I felt something I had never felt before. It was an overwhelming presence and power that I couldn't explain and didn't understand. But I knew without a doubt it was real. Many members of the church in that particular service we're going up to the pulpit and sharing their testimony about things that God has done in their lives. One of the guys that I had become friends with through scouts got up and said that he was sitting in the congregation and he felt his heart pounding and he knew because he felt that way, that he was supposed to get up and speak about what God has done in his life. I found myself sitting there feeling the exact same things! My heart was racing, I was overwhelmed, I felt that I was supposed to get up and share what God has done in my life. But I was just 10 years old and I had never been to this church before. Who was I to get up and speak to anyone there? But I did. I got up. I started walking to the front of the church to the look of surprise and concern on many of the faces of the people who I was attending with. I was trembling. I got up and very awkwardly shared my testimony about the things that God has done in my life and the things that I felt about God in my heart. I was bombarded after church. So many people came up and shared their praise of my bravery and that they could feel the love in my heart from the things that I expressed. This changed my life in that very moment. I found my home. I found where I was supposed to be. I found a place that I could express my love and belief in God. I wanted to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I went home that day and boldly expressed to my family that I wanted to become a member of the church. This desire was not well received. In fact it was received with great animosity and contempt. This began what would be a dividing war between my family and I, the residual affects lasting more than 25 years. I became a rebel for God. I refused to allow anyone to tell me what to believe. I sought God and the teachings of the church against my parents will. I met secretly at a local park with church missionaries to learn all that I could learn over the years that I had to remain in my parents home. The war with them became ugly and devastating. On the day of my 18th birthday I moved out of the house. I moved in with my girlfriend's family at that time. They took me in without judgment or pressure. It was an escape for me from the oppression that I felt crushed under all those years. Two weeks into living with them, thinking that life was as wonderful as it could possibly be (what is better than being 18 and living with your girlfriend right?!) Holy Spirit came on to my heart one day out of the blue and convicted it. I wasn't praying. I wasn't at church. I was mucking a horse stall and He fell on me hard. He told me that I was living in sin with my girlfriend and questioned me as to what I thought I was doing. I heard the voice in my heart, but I ignored it. I did nothing about it. It came again a week or 2 later, this time with more conviction and intensity. This time I listened. I approached my girlfriend's family and thanked them for their generosity in allowing me to stay in their home, but that God had spoken to me that I was to leave and to pursue the faith that I had fought for all those years. This again was met with animosity and ridicule. "God told you that?" they said. They told me that I must leave immediately and that relationship promptly ended.

I couldn't return home and I had nowhere to go. I called my best friend's family and told them the situation. They opened their home to me and I moved there. I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and began my walk with God 8 years after I shared that first testimony publicly in their church. I was treated with so much love and acceptance and praise for the valor that I had exhibited through all those years in pursuing God. I wanted to give it back to God. My desire to serve Him was renewed. I wanted to share His word with everyone. Many people are familiar with the Mormon missionaries of the church. Young men and women going two by two, wearing white shirts and black name tags. I wanted to do that. I wanted to share God's goodness with everyone. The goodness that He had shown me. I began preparations to serve a full-time mission for the Church. I had to be a member of the church for a year before I could go, so I focused that year on preparing myself for the mission field.

It was during this time that I met my future wife. She was 15 years my senior and a divorcee having had a difficult previous marriage. I was an unaware, emotionally broken 18 year old in desperate need of love and acceptance. We became friends which eventually led to unexpected intimacy (though clearly the writing was on the messy wall of our lives, in hind-sight). Because I was preparing for a mission and because I wanted to remain true to God in that process; during one of my interviews with the Bishop of the church I shared with him the sin of sexual immorality that she and I had done. This was a shocking confession to the bishop, and he was not pleased. He then informed me of the repercussions of that sin which ultimately led to my excommunication from the church. I didn't even know what excommunication was, let alone that it was a consequence to my sin. The 9 months of progress as a member of the church that I had made in preparation for my mission immediately disappeared before my eyes. I was not only not allowed to serve a mission, but I was removed from the records of the church as a member altogether. This was my second disillusionment to the service of God. But this time it came with a broken heart.

It was at this point that I became more broken than I ever had in my life prior. There was no other hurt and no other pain that affected me in my life to this point so deeply. I became angry. I became angry at God and angry at the church. I became angry at everything dealing with faith. It was at this point that I decided to walk away. Prior to this in my life I have never drank or smoked or done drugs. All of these things now entered into my life and I began walking down the path of destruction, with a smile on my face. I began drinking, smoking cigarettes and smoking marijuana on a regular basis. I sought out the vices of comfort of this world and became very affectionately tied to them and familiar with them. I no longer attend a church nor talked about God. I wanted nothing to do with Him. This lasted for a number of years. The relationship with the woman who I was involved with the church continued on and off in a very dysfunctional fashion. She became pregnant during this time and we eventually got married. I was 22. It was during this time that I worked my way back to the church. I "went through the repentance process" as the church speaks of it; for the sin that I had committed and was reinstated as a member of the church after a year. Over the next 3 years I would devoutly serve in the church and found great joy in finally falling into what I had sought and fought for for so long. What I didn't anticipate was that my marriage would begin to disintegrate. After 3 years of a struggling marriage we separated and eventually divorced. After that I began dating a woman a few years younger than me and though I held true to my devotion to God, the ultimatum to either enter into sexual intimacy with her or end the relationship was laid down in front of me. Fully knowing the consequences that would follow this, was a great challenge to me. I chose sin over God yet again. As anticipated the consequences followed and I was again excommunicated from the church. This time however I chose not to return. My life with God to this point was 15 years of painful, broken relationships, devastating experiences and I had had enough. I couldn't take any more. I told Him that I still believed in Him but that I wanted nothing to do with Him and I walked away from Him. I began my walk of life on my own. 

I immersed myself into the false illusions of escape in the world. I began to drink heavily and regularly. I sought comfort in many women who would show me attention, which lead to living promiscuously. The worst part of it was that I was really good at life this way so I just continued to do it shamelessly. I committed adultery with women who were unhappy in their marriages and who sought comfort in me and I disgustingly thought I was doing them a good service. This went on for years and drove me to a point of constantly trying to prove myself and find my self-worth in all the wrong places. I was completely lost and struggled with anger and rage. I struggled with debilitating self-consciousness and complete lack of self-esteem. I drowned all of that in alcohol. I was addicted to pornography and sexual immorality. Satan had me bound and trapped exactly where he wanted me, and convinced me that it was because of all the hurt and confusion that God caused in my life that I found myself where I was. He whispered lies that "all I had to do was be a good person" that "whenever you get close to God, all He brings is pain because you will never be able to live worthy of Him" that "you don't need God to be happy or successful or good" that you can be those things on your own. I believed the lies.

During this time I had met a woman who showed me love without condition. She was kind and strong and generous and opened my heart to potential that I had long forgotten about. I still struggled with rage, and anxiety, and jealousy and alcoholism, all of which she received the brunt of, but she refused to budge on caring for me. She showed me strength that I was not used to at this point. I began to turn my life around by making my identity about what I did. I was (am) a professional photographer with the motto "be so good they can't ignore you". I dumped everything that I was into building that identity. I had success. I found a positive identity in it. I was happy. But what remained underneath the surface was the rage, the addictions to alcohol and pornography, the seeking of love through sexual immorality. And it claimed yet another relationship and destroyed it. I clung to my identity as a photographer like a life vest in the middle of the ocean.

A while after this, as per my M.O. at that time, I met and began to date another woman. She was a strong believer in God but was unlike any that I had known before. She talked of identity in God. She talked about God in an active and interpersonal way of relationship. She didn't speak about Him as a task master, or heavy handed judge ready to convict. She talked about Him as a loving Father who draws His children close and shows them as much as their hearts will allow them to see. I had no idea who this God she spoke about was; but He knew me. She dug in and prayed for me and loved me unconditionally through all of the residual garbage that I liked to tote around with me. Little did I know what was coming because of her prayers and the God that she talked about.

One night in March 2016, a day like any other that I had ever lived, I was laying in bed and a thought came to my mind about a sin that I had committed years before. It took me off guard though, because it wasn't just a fleeting thought. It remained. And it not only took up real estate in my head but it became more intense. I felt shame about it. I felt embarrassment about it. I felt disgusting about it and then ultimately I started to feel afraid about it. Then another came. And the same things happened about that sin. And then more came. Until I began to feel overwhelmed. I had sinned so much! And so many of those sins were heinous and disgusting. I had convinced myself that I was a "good person" and I had found identity in my talents and becoming so good at them that I completely ignored the trail of destruction that the sinful decisions in my life had created. I was overcome. That night was restless. I didn't sleep well and got up for work the next day, tired. All through the day of work the remembrance of my sin would not leave me. All that evening and into that night they only became stronger. I was a wreck. That night was even more restless than the one before. I woke up the next day and went to work totally consumed and overwhelmed by the guilt and terrible, terrible torture that I was feeling over the things that I had done in my past. That night it became more than I could bear. I was terrified and started seeing visions in my head about someone coming in the night and killing me because of sin that I had committed in the past. I could literally visualize someone coming in through my window with a knife and waking me up telling me that though I had thought I got away with those sins, they destroyed other people's lives and I would pay for them. And then I would be murdered and my body found a few days later. I couldn't do anything but cry and pace my apartment. Until it became so strong that I literally fell on the floor in my living room paralyzed with fear and cried out to God that I didn't want to die. I cried out that that was not how I wanted my life to end. I didn't want to be remembered as a sinful man who destroyed people's lives and was murdered in his bed because of those sins. I called out to God to please save me from death. 

That night was restless just as the 2 previous had been. When I woke for work the next day I assumed that the day would be like the previous had been. But as I got ready for work I realized that I no longer felt anything. I was completely void of feeling. I didn't feel good but I also did not feel the torments that I have been experiencing the past 3 days. As I walked to work that day I felt something that I had never felt before in my life. I felt the most overwhelming sense of love. A literal feeling of being completely loved and comforted in a way that I had never experienced before. So much so that it confused me and I didn't understand what it was even though it felt wonderful. A few days later I heard Holy Spirit in my heart as I had in the past, but had been void of for so long. I heard him say to "read Paul". That was it. This was particularly confusing because I didn't know who Paul was, let alone where Paul even was in the Bible. I had to Google it. I began to read in Acts and move forward. When I started reading I did not feel anything in particular. I was never really a Bible reader before. But one day as I was reading in Romans 6:1-23 where Paul speaks about dying to ourselves and sinful nature and being resurrected with Christ; Holy Spirit said to me that that is what had happened to me in those days prior. That God was killing off the old me and a new one was being born. That the pain that I felt was death and that the love that I felt after word was resurrection and rebirth. This was truly the beginning of my life. I had been saved and adopted into His family.

Through my experience of that death, God showed me what life is like apart from Him. His sovereignty is not to be mocked or trifled with. He is patient and loving, and long-suffering, but the the wage of sin is death and He is the Judge. He showed me the suffering and true cost of sin that we don't see when we are participating in it. And then he took it away from me and gave me a new life in Him and an inheritance of His Kingdom. He brought the reality that He took out all of the wrath that I deserved on Jesus, and that He gave me the inheritance and new life that Jesus deserved. Nothing has ever affected me so deeply. 

God showed me my identity in Him. He showed me who He created me to be. He showed me that all of the other things that I struggled with and sought comfort in were merely counterfeits to the gifts that He has for me. He released me from the bondage of alcoholism. He released me from the bondage of pornography and promiscuity. He showed me that my value does not lie in those things, but rather in the things that He has called me to within His Kingdom. He has brought light to those things in my life, not only for my benefit but for everyone else to see, so that those who struggle with the same thing may be encouraged, not ashamed or afraid. He has made me an example of His freedom from bondage of this world that He might bring that truth to other people who are in the same place. That through my misery He expressed His victory. That through my history He showed His legacy.

John 16:33 NIV
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

That was a year and a half ago now to the very month. During this time He has literally transformed my life. It has not come without sacrifice, nor without effort but it has come with the most in enriched, fulfilled, blessed experience that I have ever had in my current 38 years. 30 years has passed since I first felt the call of God on my life and now with His lead I am stepping into what He has called me to do. He has spoken over me and set me apart that His love and truth will shoot like fire from my mouth to his children. I only need to make my self available to Him. This is my testimony of the goodness of God and His saving power from the torment of sin and death through Jesus Christ. Chasing Light is the platform that He has called me to, to share these messages with you. I look forward to our journey together.

Blessings to you in Jesus' name.

Ken