Thursday, December 30, 2010

Unlikely Disciple

Christmas has passed. The year is winding down as is the children's winter break. Very shortly things will go back to normal. . . Visiting with family this season was pleasant and not too stressful. I am not quite sure if that was due to everyone being a little older, a little wiser or just a bit more relaxed this year. It also could be that everyone was the same as they always have been and I am somehow different. I am different than I was but most days it does not seem that remarkable to me or that noticeable to me. Now on with my tale . . .

My first experience with going to a Christian church as a seeker again did not see me bursting into flames as I passed through the threshold of the sanctuary. I was a bit nervous even though I was meeting someone there. Someone else from the biker world was there and I am sure was keeping an eye out for my arrival as my friend told everyone that I was coming. His name is Turtle and he is a pleasant mild mannered fellow belonging to Bikers for Christ MC. I knew him from events we mutually attended around the state over the years.

There are numerous things I liked about the MC world and the club I belonged to. There are an equal amount if not more things that I always disliked about being a biker. There is an old joke and it goes like this;
"What is the difference between a biker and a motorcycle enthusiast?"
Answer: "A motorcycle enthusiast needs a motorcycle."

Now as most of you sit there going, "huh?" understand that being a biker is 100% attitude. Many are born to fit very comfortably in that role and many fake it. The only difference between the real ones and the fake ones is that the real ones could care less about the fakes. All of them for a myriad of reasons and scenarios can be dangerous people. We will come back to this topic later as it is an integral part of my story.

Turtle came up to me greeting me warmly. He showed me to where he and his wife were sitting and I joined them there. Not all the way to the front but not all the way in the back either. Musicians gathered on the pulpit and started to play. Everyone stood and started to clap along with the music. Turtle was singing and people throughout the sanctuary raised their hands and sang while worshipping. This was a very different experience for me. At a synagogue worship and services are much more serious and solemn with most of the service being in Hebrew. I remember nothing about the teaching that day. They talked about Jesus and I was keeping an open mind. The single most notable aspect for me was the outwardly visible deep belief these people had in God!

Belief was what captured my attention in the beginning and belief was what I kept encountering. How do you believe? Why do you believe? What exactly do you believe? These were the questions that I was continually coming back to. The one point I was convinced of was that I did not know nearly enough to make a truly informed decision. No, that is not true really. I knew something was there but there was some sort of obstacle to fully and unreservedly giving myself over to it. And I sit here today much farther along than on that day almost 2 years ago there is still some unknown hindering me from completely submitting myself to God.

Do I believe in God? Do I believe God believes in me? Do I believe the Bible is the inerrant preserved word of God? Do I believe that Jesus lived, died for my sins and was resurrected? Do I believe my faith in Jesus justifies me? Do I believe I am forgiven continually? Do I believe God is faithful and just and merciful? Do I believe God's mercy is fresh every morning. Do I believe God had a plan for me? Do I believe that God is my friend and that He calls me friend?
The answer to all these questions and more is without a shred of doubt YES!
I believe.

(to be continued)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Unlikely Disciple

I needed to do something. Reading the Bible and recognizing It's Truth wasn't the end of this journey. It only fanned the fire that had been kindled in me. Being a non-observant Jew I really did not know what to do next. What was I supposed to do? What was the Bible telling me to do? In my novice understanding was it enough at that moment to just believe? I needed Christians to talk to. Not just Jesus Freaks but people who could grasp the complexity of me. I have to chuckle at myself. Always a little different. Always with special circumstances.

I am a huge fan of my iPod and iTunes. So in December 2008 I started there. I needed more insight and help understanding the Bible and what to do next. There is a search bar on iTunes where I typed in Christianity or something like that and received all types of suggestions for music and books and podcasts. While reading the descriptions there were these free downloads for The sequence of events is not so clear to me today but my best recollection is that I must have listened to a podcast or two. Several things struck me about these teachings. First that the gentleman doing the podcasts was very knowledgeable and he conveyed through his teaching that he absolutely without any reservation believed deeply in what he was saying. Remember, deep belief is what tugged at me while I read the "Left Behind" series. His name is Toby Logsdon and at the time he was finishing his seminary degree. I decided to send him an email explaining my situation and see if he had any advice for me.

I remember writing the email and it was like I was throwing out a life line. No response or a cold response would have been disheartening to say the least. There I go again with my expectations . . . I did receive a response, probably that same day and it was to ask me a couple of questions. He asked me who did I believe Jesus to be? Sitting here now thinking back on this it was the perfect question. Any further steps down this path of faith would depend on that answer and that answer alone. And at the time I did not know. I wanted all the answers and understanding right then. More reading and more listening was what it was going to take.

I also needed someone to talk to. I had to talk to someone about what I was experiencing. My wife was afraid and her Catholic upbringing only made her more fearful. But that is her story for her to tell. I had been riding with a motorcycle club for the past 13 years when this journey became visible. We had rubbed elbows with lots of other clubs and I knew of a guy who rode with a club called Bikers for Christ. In fact I had attended the wedding of one of my members that he had officiated. He was a friendly guy and totally on fire for Jesus. One of those guys if you are not a believer can be a little too much to take at times. I had always liked him and he and his wife seemed to have an affinity for my wife and I. So I reached out and got his phone numbers and called and left him a message to call me. Which he did that day or the next. I told him my story and received much encouragement. I agreed to meet him at his church that upcoming Sunday. Being the zealous individual that I knew him to be he got off the phone with me and started calling others in the church to tell them about me. Then strangers started to call me. Understand, at this time in my life I am a gun toting biker, national officer of a motorcycle club and I don't like talking to strangers.

The first call I received was from someone inviting me to a bible study and the second call I received was from a guy named Douglas and he too invited me to a different bible study. I shared my story with him and he shared his story with me. 9 or 10 years ago he was a methamphetamine addict with a lab in his backyard. Now that was something I could relate too. My whole life seemed to be a life lived outside of anything resembling normal. Abuse, addiction, depression, dysfunction, fear, judgement, criticism, anger; lots of anger. Here was someone that although he didn't know me had walked an unconventional path. I needed someone who had obviously fallen in life who knew that pain and the judgement that goes with it.

Today Pastor Douglas and I are good friends. Over the past 2 years he has lifted me up, encouraged me and been a consistent example of a man of faith. A far more consistent example than I can claim for myself. Praise to God for being patient and merciful towards me. God's grace is an undeserved gift that is so easy for me to take for granted. My debt, paid for by Jesus on the cross, is greater than I will ever be able to repay. And whether or not I believe myself to be worthy of such a gift God so loves me that He offered it to me freely. And I love Him for it.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

side bar / Unlikely Disciple

A dear dear friend of mine died yesterday. I didn't even know she had been ill. I have no real details yet but I am sad and I am remorseful. This was a kind loving friend who had an indomitable spirit who overcame the loss of her father in an airline crash as a young nurse who traveled around the world for years caring for victims of the tsunami and earthquakes. We lost touch and it has been somewhere around four years since we had spoken.

Sadness for the cold fact that now there are only going to be the memories of her laugh, her raspy voice, the brightness of her presence. There will never be another conversation. She will never encourage me again, nor I her. There have been no tears and there may never be but the sorrow is like a warm blanket I wear draped over my shoulders. Not too heavy but enough to remind me it is always there.

Remorse for letting us slip out of touch. Both of us busy with the needs of the lives we had built for ourselves. Never having shared the unexpected turn my life has taken. Never having shared with her the Truth that found me and changed me and cleansed me. Truth that may have set her free.

My hope is that in her travels touching and helping the suffering in the world that someone somewhere shared the Truth with her. I may not know until I am in the presence of the LORD; I may never know.

I loved you Sasha Poll. I wish I could wrap my arms around you and hug you tightly and tell you that. God forgive me.

(more Unlikely Disciple tomorrow)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Unlikely Disciple

When I had completed reading the 12 books of the "Left Behind" series I was left with a hunger to know more. Now I know the series was a fictional story but my heart and spirit knew there was some real Truth in there. What exactly, I was not sure. I needed some direction to go in. There was a fire kindling in me and it seemed only logical to read the Bible; Old Testament and New Testament. So I started on page 1 of the Old Testament and quickly became bogged down in what seemed like a reading assignment I had given myself. After muddling my way through the first 5 Books I needed a new strategy. In my mind I was going to read the Bible from cover to cover and then I would know "it". That was me once again thinking I know best.

So I embarked on reading the New Testament. I was excited! This was uncharted territory for me. Something almost forbidden in my upbringing or at the least not openly discussed. I opened the Bible to the Gospel of Matthew and behold! I did not burst in to flames!

Now I started reading with a bit of skepticism. I was waiting for a reason to throw the book across the room and declare that the Christians really are just a bunch of kooks that didn't think God was good enough on His own. It's been a couple years now and I have not found anything in the Bible I disagree with. Just consider the arrogance of that last sentence! Exactly who do I think I am? How easy it is to exalt myself and congratulate myself. A more accurate way to say it is; I have found a great number of things in the Bible I do not understand and that is where the internet, study bibles and solid brothers and sisters in Christ come in to help.

I stated my simple answer as to what did I believe in was "nothing". Of course that is an over-simplification of what I really discovered about myself. My first novice conclusion I came to was that I believed in the dollar. Money was what I believed in. That the only people who didn't worry about money were those that had enough of it. But that is not what I really believed. I said to people that the dollar had failed us and they would nod in knowing agreement. That's too easy an excuse I have come to believe. How convenient to blame something or someone else for all the lies I told myself. All the lies I wanted to believe. It's like whistling in the dark or hoping that if I don't move I won't be seen.

What I found in the pages of Scripture was the Truth. Words that touched my heart and the very essence of my soul. There were numerous "aha!" moments as I read every day. Just ask my petrified wife laying next to me in bed at night who thought I was going off the deep end. There were thoughts and phrases that made so much sense to me. Things I knew deep deep inside but were never cohesive thoughts until I read the bold words that humble men had dared to record. Men who believed so strongly that they would lay their lives down for God. I wanted to believe in something with that kind of abandon. Not reckless but something so rich and full and life-giving. Something that would dispel all the lies and not masquerade as truth.

(to be continued)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Unlikely Disciple

As I sat in my chair in a large multi-purpose room with dozens of other kids I wanted nothing more than to get high. Thoughts swirled in my head. I played out scenario after scenario of where I would go after I signed myself out of the program. Who I could call to come get me and what I would do then. My thoughts did not get very far. There really was no future to any scenario I came up with. The program was hard. Withdrawal was hard. I wanted to quit. I always quit when things got tough. I wanted a better life. Whatever that was.

As I sat there feining for dope I looked up and my first prayer to a god I did not know but somehow deep in my heart knew was there was, "God help me. I can't deal with this sh*t!" And in a minute or so the craving went away for a time. I experienced severe cravings for the better part of a year. Consistent regular desires to get high and get back to my friend who had been with me through thick and thin. That great liar who had led me to nowhere and nothing. Eventually the cravings became less intense and spaced farther apart. I read in the Narcotics Anonymous book that the desire to get high would become like a fancy desireable car passing in front of you. It would stir that fire of desire as you gazed at it but as soon as the car turned the corner the thoughts would disappear. So I learned to take a deep breath say a simple prayer and move on. And that is what I have been doing for the past 24+ years.

There was a moment during the early days of my stay in that treatment center (that I considered the equivalent of a Turkish bootcamp) that I struggled with letting go of that undefineable grip that an addict's personality holds on that glimmer of hope that is ignited in a newly recovering person. I had just given an really unemotional accounting of my history to the parents and other kids in the program (several hundred in all) and was getting a stern talking to by the staff. Then a staff member asked me what I wanted. After a long pause I stated I wanted to be happy. He looked at me and replied that if I wanted to be happy I will. When he said the word will it was like the floodgates had been opened. I wept. I wept openly. I could not help it. I prayed and wept and it was like I had been washed clean. That doorway between God and me seemed to have been opened a little bit. Whatever obstacle had been in the way was moved to the side.

Upon relection it does seem that my greatest spiritual strides have coincided with some crisis. That the pain of living this life reaches a crescendo where something has to give. I am going to venture a guess and state that I have to give. That God is trying to push through and my resistence is the source of pain. I have never received from God anything but blessings and grace and joy so it has to be me. I have let it take a lot of pain a lot of times to get back to remembering that.

Interestingly enough my belief in Jesus Christ, His life, His death and His ressurection did not come through any immediate crisis I had caused in my life.
My understanding is that most people not raised in Christian homes tend to come to a belief in Jesus through crisis in their lives. I do believe that my faith has certainly been strengthened through some trials and tribulations since being called to the faith. But let's go back now to having read all 12 "Left Behind" novels and my realization that I really did not believe in anything.

(to be continued)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Unlikely Disciple

So, as I pondered what I truly believed in I came to a surprising answer. I didn't believe in anything! Oh, I thought I did. I was a self made man. I was fiercely independent and stubborn and that tenacity brought me far in the ways of the world. A successful business, a beautiful wife, four healthy sons, respect, a strong reputation and that nagging feeling that it was all going to come crumbling down at any moment and that I would be found out as a fraud.

Now, let's back up 35+ years for a little bit. As I said before I was born and raised Jewish but I did not know what that meant. I went to Synagogue on the holidays, memorized some prayers, snuck a little wine but as a child I was absolutely and totally lost in the world. The 2 people who were to protect me and teach me and prepare me for life were too busy arguing, fighting and hating one another to care for me in the proper ways. Oh, I never went hungry or without things. What I needed was love and guidance and reassurance. The very things that are critical to healthy development. But I lived in fear. Fear of being beaten by my father, fear of love being torn away by my mother. I remember crying a lot as a child. The world did not make sense. I just wanted to be able to come home from school and play and not be in trouble for something.

My parents divorced finally when I was 13. I was thrilled! I wanted to be as far away from my father as possible. I had started to dabble with drinking beer and smoking pot. But as they separated and divorced drugs became my comforter, my friend. Then they became my controller, deciding everything I did, who I did it with and when. That went on for the next miserable and depraved 7+ years. I got arrested, went to jail, got kicked out of the house, hit the psych unit, dropped out of high school, prostituted myself, lied, cheated and stole to survive. Anything to survive. I entered my first rehab at age 14 and hopefully my last one two weeks before I turned 21. That was September 8, 1986 and I have not had a drink or a drug since that date.

People might think, "Wow! That is great! Life must have been real good since then!" Those people may not understand that although being clean and sober is far far better than the alternative there is a lot of wreckage mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually that needs attention. A lot of attention!

I was almost 21 and I was broken. Thoroughly defeated by a life I believed I was in control of. I cried and cried and cried. I knew absolutely nothing about life except how to fall farther into the depths of depravity and degradation.

I entered a long term treatment program for adolescents and remained there for 10 months and 3 weeks.  I signed myself in and could sign myself out at any time. It was a harsh place that was very strict and disciplined. I knew I was at a fork in the road; to either choose life or to choose to die. It didn't really seem like much of a choice. I believed that if I did not enter that program I was going to die.

See, by the age of 20 I was a junkie. I had been living in Miami smoking crack and when I was not high I was in heavy withdrawal. Physically sick with cramping, sinus problems, fever and headaches. One hit on the crack pipe and I was right as rain; no cramps, pain or anything. I knew it was the end. So the choice was an easy one.

This was the beginning of a spiritual awakening that offered so much hope and promise that I would walk for years in pain and confusion and depression seeking relief while staying clean and sober.

(to be continued)

Friday, December 10, 2010

So, it is early August 2008. I am driving through the desert with my mother headed to the San Diego zoo for her 65th birthday. Her and I have taken several road trips together for business in the past and have always enjoyed audio books on cd to help the miles pass. For this particular journey we bought 2 books on cd and for the life of me I cannot remember what the second one was. Which is the whole point of this blog.

Just to give a little background, I was a 43 year old, married father of 4 sons aged 11, 9, 7 and 5. Born and raised Jewish and active in the religion only until I was bar mitzvahed. Which is pretty common here in the US of A. My God was a god of history that seemed to have been fairly silent for a long time. I viewed being Jewish as more of a cultural thing and as more of a people that existed alongside and outside of the very religious Jews. We would say prayers and blessings in a language most of us did not know and had no intimate relationship with our Creator. We just accepted lightly that we were God's Chosen Poeple and left it at that. I say we because although I have not spoken to anyone at length about my observations I am convinced there are many American Jews with much the same upbringing.

Ok back to the trip with my Jewish mother for her birthday . . . So, the audiobook is called "Left Behind" a sort of science fiction/fantasy novel about what the world would be like if suddenly all the true believers in Jesus Christ were taken away in an instant to be with Him. A fascinating concept and what seemed like an intriguing story. In fact it was well written and set in current times and was full of action from the beginning. My mother and I listened to the story all the way to San Diego from Tucson, Arizona and all the way home after a long weekend of celebrating her birthday.

It took me several days of listening to the end of the story while I drove to and from work only to find out at the end that it was book 1 in a series of 12! Now, the story was fantastic! Millions of people disappeared in an instant, there was chaos and confusion and fear, etc . . . There was also the beginning of the rise of the Antichrist from humble civil servant, blah blah blah. Like I said the book was well written and interesting so I sought out my local used bookstore and started buying up used copies of the remaining 11 novels in the series.

I read nothing but the "Left Behind" series for the next 3-4 months. The series kept me interested the whole time. Sometimes I lose interest with an author after several novels and have to take a break from his/her writing for a while. Not so in this case and believe me I was ready for the religious rhetoric to get to be too much so I could put it down.

I had met all kinds of religious nuts in the past. Watching street evangelists being mocked in downtown Seattle. Being argumentative towards Jehovah's Witnesses when they came to my door. An old old friend of mine who found Jesus and seemed to go off the deep end with it. I had passed by Messianic churches and scoffed at my people who seemed to be a little nuts or something.

But in this story I never found the references to Jesus or Scripture to be offensive for some reason. I am not sure I gave it a whole lot of thought but what kept coming to my mind as I read novel after novel was just how deeply the characters believed in Jesus and God. It got me to thinking about what I believed in. And I came up with some interesting answers for myself.

(to be continued)