I was not always so. None of us is. No mortal in history has ever been born into the Kingdom of God. We must all enter by the same gate; so the question is more properly framed, “why did I become a Christian, and why do I remain one?”
I was not raised in a churchgoing family. Both of my parents were Jewish, as well as my four grandparents, and as far as I know, all my ancestors going back many generations. From the shtetl in what’s now called Belarus, we were likely the template used to make “Fiddler On The Roof.” The “church,” and anyone in it, was a foreign, cold, and forbidden thing to me.
We were not observant Jews in any sense of the word, but we were proud. My mother and father, despite divorcing when I was four, ensured that I received an orthodox Jewish education (my father dropped me off every Saturday at shul and picked me up afterward–he never went in), and that I was Bar Mitzvah’d. I even attended a Jewish parochial school for three (I think) years, where I learned conversational Hebrew. We were what you’d call “high holiday and Passover” Jews.
When I was a almost a teenager, we moved to New Hampshire, and we never went back to synagogue. Life got too busy. High school, then college, then work. I lived as a functional atheist, but observed like my parents–fasted on Yom Kippur, and visited family for holidays–because it was what we did. I did not include God in my life.
Then in 1992, I moved to Georgia. The Bible belt. I remember being taken aside by a genteel southern lady, our division chief at Robins AFB, because I “used the Lord’s name in vain.” She told me unequivocally that we don’t do that here. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied. Nobody ever took me aside and tried to “evangelize” me or corner me with a Bible and Jesus talk. I would have looked at them like they were insane.
I am very glad they didn’t try, because if they had, I would have closed that door, probably forever, being the kind of person who reacts very negatively to being pushed. You should see what happens when I’m given an ultimatum.
I did not want to be a Christian. I wanted to not be a Christian, because I was a Jew, and Jews are not Christian. Not ever.
So how did it happen?
After four years at Robins AFB, I left to start my own company. I ran that company for five years, and about half way into it, I hired a young high school kid who wanted to work with computers (we ran an ISP). When the kid was about 18, his parents decided to move away, and he wanted to stay. When I was 19, my parents retired to Florida, and I stayed with my brother in New Hampshire to finish college. I remembered how that felt, and the smallest possible crack of compassion opened in my soul.
You see, I was not a compassionate person. Ask anyone who knew me then (and most of them still know me now). I was a hard-nosed business person. I gave free Internet service to churches because it brought business, and only because it brought business. I didn’t give out raises unless employees bugged me for it. I targeted competitors and forced them out of business at times. I always played for an advantage and I enjoyed that life.
But I was very much alone also. Plenty in my life was missing. I lived selfishly, overspending and then digging out of holes. I was not looking for God because I really had forgotten he existed.
Then a tiny crack of compassion opened, and I found out my young employee was a Christian. A pentecostal Christian–must be a cult, I thought. No matter, he still needed help. I went on a business trip to Denver, and came home early because I got very sick out there. I took the red-eye back and sat at my desk with a fever and bags under my sleepless eyes.
And that kid asked me if I wanted to come to the Perry talent show that night. I said yes. I guess God knew I was delirious or something to agree to that. Perry, Georgia is a nice town, but not large. The talent show was everything you’d think a small town in Georgia would offer. The kid’s band was playing. He didn’t play in the band; he did sound. They were a Christian band, of course. I will never forget how he danced to their music while he ran the mixing board.
After the show, they took me to the place everyone goes after a performance in the south: Waffle House. It was late, maybe midnight. I was not really tired, because I had napped that day and was still partially on Denver time. As we sat, the band leader told me about Jesus. I listened, and then responded. I was not polite. I told him that I thought Jesus was a myth, at least the part that he was God. I told him I did not want to believe in myths.
I don’t remember what else he told me, but when it was time to leave, I spoke with my young employee in the parking lot. It was February 19, 1999 (or early on the 20th). I asked him why he believed all this.
“I don’t believe it. I know,” he answered.
“How do you know?”
“Ask God. He will answer.”
Of course. I got in my pickup truck to drive home. As I drove up the interstate, something inside me cracked a little bit more. I thought to myself, why not? So I asked, in my mind, “God, if you exist, please show me now.”
I was not tired, or delirious, or drunk, or on drugs. To this day, I will never forget that one moment that changed me forever. God answered.
I was dangling in a large cylindrical shaft over a pit. It was dark below me, with nothing visible. Above me, there was only muted light. I could see the thinnest strand, like a hair, supporting my weight. I believe I was naked, but I couldn’t tell because it was dark. I was cold, and felt a cold draft coming up from below. There were no flames of hell, or devils. There was no sound at all but my own breathing.
I don’t know how long I hung there in the cold darkness, terrified.
Then God spoke. I knew it was God. I didn’t see anyone, but I heard. Whether I heard it in my ears or my mind, I don’t know. But I knew it was God.
He said four words: “This is your position.”
Then I was back in my pickup truck. I nearly ran off the road. It was like no time at all had passed, but I was sure I was just dangling over the bottomless, hopeless pit from which there is no return, for at least an hour.
I fled home and spent the night weeping. I threw all my pornography away in a trash bag. I could not sleep. The next morning, I called the young employee and asked him what I should do. He said I should go to synagogue. So I did. I became the best Jew I knew how to be.
Not to bore you, I’ll skip to the end. It took nearly four months, but I eventually worked up the courage, helped along the way by some unlikely encounters and miracles, including some really supernatural stuff, to read the New Testament.
I made it to Matthew 27:51. I knew it was true. I had become a basket case, conflicted by the knowledge of the Risen Savior, but held back by my Jewishness. Then on June 5, 1999, after (of all things) going to see “Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace” because a Christian called me out of the blue to see it with him, I confessed Christ to that person in my living room. That particular Christian never called me to go to a movie before or after, but he did ask “I think you have something to tell me” that one day.
God had ordained that day for me. June 6, 1999 was my first Sunday morning church service, ever. It was D-Day, and for me “D” stood for “Deliverance.”
My story was not too different from C.S. Lewis, the most reluctant of converts.
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words “compelle intrare,” compel them to come in, have been so abused be wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.
There’s an old saying that one man’s experience beats all the arguments of the world. The joy I experienced at becoming a Christian, the pure love of a gracious God, who spared not a moment of sleep looking after me my whole life, and brought me lovingly into His Kingdom, is not a moment I can argue away.
Many Christians become disillusioned or bitter. I have also experienced those feelings, and have even at times, and for a time, walked away from running the race for Him. But I never stopped believing. How could I, having been changed so.
In June 1999, I went from a hard-hearted, competitive, selfish sinner of a businessman, to a person who walked into the office the next Monday morning and asked everyone to hold hands and pray in a circle. Needless to say, that didn’t go well. But I was fearless.
I wish I was still as fearless as I was then, wielding the Word of God and the power of His love. If you ask why I am a Christian, it’s because of that love. Nothing I have done, no words I have spoken, could bring me that joy and fearlessness. Only God and His power through Christ.
I am a Christian because I have the hope that I can once again attain that pure joy of His salvation and relive it every day until I go to be with Him forever.
The photo above is a picture of me from 1997, while I was still living without God. I cannot imagine how life would have been had He not intervened.