When I speak to young Christian adults, whether they are in the workplace or in college, a message that I hope encourages them concerns God's willingness to guide their lives if that is their desire. I use His involvement in my own life throughout my 67 years as an example. The following is an abridged version of God's gracious guidance, much of it well before I came to know Him personally.
I was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and baptized Thomas Aloysius McMahon in the Roman Catholic Church. In my early grade-school years, my family moved to Apple Creek, Ohio, where my dad was a psychiatrist at the state mental health facility. Our home was on the 2,000-acre grounds of the institution. That aspect of my background came to light during the times when Dave Hunt and I were both speakers at conferences. Dave enjoyed mentioning to the audience that "Tom grew up in a mental institution, so you really need to be Bereans in checking out what he says." They thought he was joking until I admitted that he was correct on both accounts.
My education was mostly under Catholic instruction, including elementary school, military school, and high school, as well as a brief time in a Catholic fraternity. I enjoyed my Catholic upbringing and looked upon many of the nuns and priests in my life as extended family members. Those fond memories remain.
I attended The Ohio State University, which brings to mind two quotes from my parents. When asked by friends what I was majoring in, my father noted with a touch of amusement, "The path of least resistance." (I was a Fine Arts major in undergraduate school.) My mother, years later, surmised that my career objective seemed to be to "stay in school." There's little doubt that my sense of humor sprang from both parents, although I'm not sure that Mom was kidding: I was entering my seventh year at OhioState at the time of her comment!
To be fair to myself (sort of), my last years there were in graduate school. I stayed on the "path of least resistance" by majoring in film, which primarily entailed watching lots and lots of movies. If I read a book during that time, I don't remember it. My goal from there was to "earn" a Ph.D. and settle into a teaching position, perhaps at OhioState. Although it looked like a straight shot to achieving my final academic degree, I was troubled by a lack of professional experience on the part of those who would oversee my dissertation and thesis project. Only one of my professors had actually worked in the theatrical movie industry. So I decided to head for Hollywood, get some big-time experience, and then return to campus as a "professor."
Prior to that adventure, another "adventure" took place: I got married. There were complications, however. My bride-to-be, Peggy, was an Episcopalian. My plan was for us to be married in a ceremony co-officiated by a Catholic priest and an Episcopal priest. The Church of Rome side, however, had some conditions to which Peggy had to conform. I was hopeful that the Paulist priests on campus would supply me with reasons that would make sense to my first-year law student fiancée. What they offered, however, was basically the same response that I had received throughout my own days in Catholic elementary and high school: "...because the Church says so!" Consequently, we were married in an Episcopal church, and that was the beginning of the end of my life as a practicing Catholic.
Our trek to Southern California in our VW bus began with Peggy's transfer from OhioState to UCLA to begin her second year of law school (which she gave up the first day of class in favor of surfing, an activity that we both greatly preferred at the time over our potential career choices). Nevertheless, as our financial resources were thinning, I doubled my efforts to gain employment at any of the major film studios and, amazingly, was soon hired by 20th Century-Fox (TCF). This was surprising because my film education had no bearing on their hiring me. It was rather my design background in fine arts! I worked in TCF's Advertising/Publicity department for a number of years, all the while trying to get a job on an actual movie production. Although I had met many film producers, they all said pretty much the same thing. Any movie position for which I was qualified was always meted out on the basis of nepotism, i.e., reserved for sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews--and no one was interested in adopting me.
One producer who showed some interest in my dilemma offered a suggestion: write a script, sell it, and make a production position part of the deal. Great idea! Except for the fact that I couldn't put two sentences together--and I had the English Comp. grades to testify to that fact. Yet it was my only hope. On the studio lot at TCF, there were a number of young "wannabes": aspiring actors, directors, producers, scriptwriters, etc. In that group was a young lady who was a gifted writer. We teamed up. She supplied most of the writing and I learned how to write scripts in the process. My role, for the most part in the beginning, was to take our screenplays and try to sell them to the producers whom I knew at TCF. After a few "good try, but not commercial enough" rejections, we sold a couple of scripts and then had the opportunity to translate an epic novel to the screen: James Michener's Caravans. The movie starred Anthony Quinn and was shot on location in Iran, a country where the seeds of an Islamic revolution were being sown at the time by the Ayatollah Khomeini and eventually resulted in the overthrow of the Shah.
By that point in my life, between my studio experience and film production involvement, I had accomplished my "Hollywood experience" teaching objectives and considered returning to school as a professor. But some dramatic events in our household now complicated that decision.
Peggy was pregnant with our first child, and she had also become "one of those born-again Christians." I was very excited about the former, and perplexed--even put off--by the latter. Although I had ceased to practice the faith of my youth, my attitude was: "I was born a Catholic and I'll die a Catholic." That mantra, of course, had no basis in reason, logic, or any value whatsoever, particularly for someone like me, who hadn't been in a Catholic church in nearly a decade. Nevertheless, I stuck to it as my main defense when evangelicals--including many of my former Catholic family members--began to witness to me. The onslaught at times seemed fierce, particularly when my three-year-old niece would call periodically and ask with a zeal well beyond her age: "Uncle Tommy, have you asked Jesus into your heart yet?" I managed rage control as I sweetly asked to speak to her mother, my sister. Then I let it fly.
I rejected every effort on the part of one and all to influence me spiritually. I rejected offers to attend church, lectures, special speakers, Bible studies, and so forth. I did attend Peggy's baptism, which only confirmed my bias against those non-Catholics. Not only was she "dunked"--she was dunked in a swimming pool! How spiritual could that be? The most difficult part of maintaining my wall of resistance, however, was the group of evangelical friends that Peggy had met. I liked them a lot and enjoyed socializing with them, except for the annoying witnessing part.
Of course, they and all my believing family members and their friends were praying for me, and God was working in unexpected ways. Peggy and her friends got me to go to an evangelical church for the first time by telling me that I could bring my surfboard. Surfing was not part of the service, but the meeting did take place at a beach. Initially, only the waves and the other aspects of beach life that might attract and distract a young guy captured my attention. But gradually, I spent more time listening to the message. That led to questions, an exercise that had often gotten me into trouble during my childhood catechism classes and that the priests had answered with the usual: "because the Church says so!"
As I listened to the preaching, I began to ask our evangelical friends questions, just as I had the nuns and priests throughout my life. Rather than giving me a Church's authoritarian response or some "expert's" declaration, I was shown what the Bible had to say on the subject. That was different, even encouraging. Although not a believer yet, I participated in a couples Bible study, which for them was a bit like having a Michigan Wolverine in attendance at a Buckeye pep rally. For me, however, I was given much information that helped me understand that my sins had separated me from God, and the only way I could be reconciled to Him was to accept by faith the reality that Christ had paid the full penalty for my sins--past, present, and future. I came to understand that there was no other way to be saved, yet my lingering Catholic works-salvation background kept me at bay.
I had a lot to think about during that time period: a baby on the way, a potentially life-changing commitment to Christ, a trip to Iran for the filming of Caravans. The last item was resolved quickly. It all came down to Anthony Quinn's and the producer's wife's alterations to the script versus this young writer's objections--and consequently, someone had to go. I was unceremoniously put on the next plane to London and then back to the U.S. The good news in that experience was that it showed me that I couldn't trust in circumstances but rather that I needed to put my complete trust in the Lord, which I did by faith shortly after my return home.
What followed can only be truly understood as God's further orchestration of my life. I was soon introduced by a Christian filmmaker to a man who had a story idea for a movie. The content involved UFOs, psychic phenomena, Eastern mysticism, and other rather bizarre ideas. After reading his story treatment, I returned to his house and told him that I had no clue what any of that stuff had to do with Christianity. I added that although it was certainly exciting, I nevertheless couldn't write the screenplay. I could help him, however, to put it into script form if he wanted to work together on it. (The script eventually became the basis for the novel Mind Invaders, formerly The Archon Conspiracy.) Thus began thirty-some years of my helping Dave Hunt to do what God had called him to do. I had no understanding of what a biblical calling was, but I knew in my heart that I was to help this man whom I had just met by God's leading.
Equipped with simply a calling and the gift of helps (1 Corinthians 12:28), I saw by faith God's amazing guidance in my life for His own purposes. The Berean Call (TBC) is a fairly complex, international ministry involved with newsletter publishing, book publishing, audio and video production, radio broadcasting, broad resource material sales and production, an extensive website, etc. It began 20 years ago, with me, nearly computer illiterate, working on a card table in Dave's make-shift bedroom-turned-office.
It was The Seduction of Christianity that motivated us to begin TBC. After Dave had written The Cult Explosion and The God Makers, and I had been involved in the production of the film documentaries of the same name, we received numerous letters from Christians who were concerned that many of the cult teachings that we had exposed were coming into their charismatic and evangelical churches. The Seduction of Christianity was written to address those biblically erroneous teachings and practices, which have grown exponentially over the last quarter-century.
To underscore the point of this article, that God guides (in my case) the clueless--also known as the "foolish things of this world" (1 Corinthians 1:27) here is a likely interview if the world were to consider hiring me today for the position of executive director of TBC based upon my background, education, and resume: "Let's see, you grew up Roman Catholic...you spent a portion of your childhood at a mental institution...you have a degree in Fine Arts...you majored in film in graduate school....Hmm...I see no business education or experience. I see no formal theological training. No seminary or Bible school....You worked for a major Hollywood movie studio. You wrote screenplays for movies. So, Mr. McMahon, why do you think any of that could possibly qualify you to direct a Christian ministry?" The way the world thinks, I'm sure I would hear... "Are you sure you didn't wander into this interview by mistake?" No, I wandered into Dave Hunt's house about 30 years ago by God's providence and direction, and I knew that I was supposed to help Mr. Hunt do what God had called him to do. That was the only part about which I was not clueless.
I had no other game plan, no vision, no marketing strategy--but what I did have was a willingness to be used of the Lord in Dave's life. The Lord has orchestrated all the rest over the last three decades or so.
Would you like some examples of the Lord's "practical" orchestration? My Catholic background has helped me to write extensively about the unbiblical teachings of Roman Catholicism. I was one of the co-founders of a co-operative ministry called Reaching Catholics for Christ, which was supported by The Berean Call. My growing up in the mental health community helped me to write first-hand about the pseudo-science of psychological counseling. My Irish heritage has blessed me with "a kiss of the blarney" that has enabled me to do radio. My Fine Arts and film background have helped me to produce Christian documentaries and videos such as A Woman Rides the Beast, Israel, Islam, and Armageddon, and Psychology and the Church. My screenwriting in Hollywood has helped me to learn a craft that was terribly foreign to me called...writing.
I tell young people that for the first 30 years of my life I wasn't a believer, yet who can deny that God was orchestrating my life? How much more so, then, will He do the same for those who know Him and are desirous of and pray for His will in their lives? All that a believer needs to be fruitful in his or her life in Christ is to be willing to be used of the Lord. God supplies the rest through the Holy Spirit, who leads, guides, directs, corrects, gifts, and enables.
"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).