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Friday, July 27, 2007

How Mikhail Gorbachev Brought Me to Jesus Christ

In listening to my Christian Brother's and Sister's testimony, the common thread seems to be a person or an event brought them to see Christ as their Savior. I'm no different. If it wasn't for Mikhail Gorbachev, I might never have found Christ. I pray for Mikhail and hope he someday takes the path he put me upon.

First, I little background. I was born Jewish in a Jewish neighborhood in North New Jersey. When the race riots erupted in the 1960's and Newark, NJ burned, the Jews (and many other groups) fled. Most Jews settled in clusters creating new Jewish neighborhoods, but my parents were different. They moved to a town with virtually no Jews. They never explained to me why...maybe I'll ask them.

I didn't enjoy religion as a child or young adult. Synagogue was boring, mostly in a language I didn't understand, and worship was rigidly structured. My formerly Catholic friends who are now Evangelical Christians voiced the same complaint.

I didn't get anything spiritual out of Synagogue: I didn't feel God's presence. What little I read of the Old Testament was boring, especially Numbers. It appeared to be a book of strict rules that biblical Jews never seemed to follow for long, and a vengeful God made them regret it ....over and over again.

I went to Hebrew School because my parents said I had to. They said once I was Bar Mitzvahed at age 13, THEN I could decide on my own how I wanted to live my religious life. Preparing for the Bar Mitzvah was a lot of work but at least there was a big cash and gift payoff to look forward to. I played my role magnificently, made my parents proud, got some great gifts and cash, and quit Hebrew School. If I remember correctly, I also never went back to Synagogue again. For the next 5 years I considered myself a non-practicing Jew.

Lets back up: I was 8 years old and home sick for 2 weeks with a very bad case of the mumps. My mother went to the bookstore and purchased the first few Tom Swift novels. He was kind of like the Harry Potter of today, except instead of magic, he invented flying cars and space traveled. She read them to me as I had a high fever and couldn't keep my eyes open...but my ears were open and I became hooked on science fiction. I became a voracious reader; first of science fiction but later branching out into historical fiction, Greek mythology, and, complements of the late Alan Drury: political fiction. My favorite stories were the "end of the world", "World War III", surviving a nuclear/biological/meteor collision themes followed by "alternate history" stories. What if the South won the Civil War? What if Germany had won World War II? Most of all, I just loved reading.

My only goal after High School was to travel and expand my horizons. I joined the military who fulfilled my wish by sending me to Asia (I just wanted to go to California!). It was strange being so far from home, and while I had a great time and learned a lot while serving my country, it was a little lonely too sometimes. One day, I guy in my barracks invited me to a "Serendipity Meeting". What else did I have to do? So I went. The only thing that I remember from that day was that at one point, I knelt down and a group of people encircled me and prayed. It was then that I had my first meeting with the Lord: I had a "Mountain-Top" experience.

I was kneeling with my eyes closed and suddenly everywhere I was surrounded by an incredibly bright white light and complete silence. I then experienced a feeling of love and joy that is simply impossible to explain. When I arose, I had a smile on my face that wouldn't leave. I was filled with such joy and contentment that I thought I would burst. They gave me a copy of the King James New Testament and that was the last time I saw or heard from them again. That lack of follow-up probably explains what happened next.

I eagerly started reading the Bible, but the King James version is not the easiest to understand. I had questions and no one to ask them to. I was confused. And then I started feeling guilty. How could I tell my parents I was a Christian now? Was I really a Christian; after all, I was born a Jew? Had someone showed me Romans 5 "First the Jews, then the Gentiles", I would have understood. But I was alone, and gradually over the next two weeks, the feeling of joy faded away. I wasn't a Christian any more, but I wasn't a Jew either. I became an agnostic.

I returned to the US, went to college, became successful in business, and married the most amazing woman on the planet. We were married in a Unitarian Church, actually in the woods behind it. It was beautiful. By now I was calling myself a Capitalist. I wore a Spanish 2 Real piece set in 18K gold around my neck. It was minted in 1530 and was the first series of coins ever minted in the Americas.

By now you're probably asking yourself "So what does all this have to do with Mikhail Gorbachev?" In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected President and, to the horror of both the Nuclear Freeze Movement and the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) crowd, publicly and loudly announced that the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire and would not stand! The MAD people hid under their desks waiting for a preemptive first strike by the Soviet Union while the Nuclear Freeze crowd.....hid under their desks waiting for a preemptive first strike but then came out to protest. When in doubt, protest!

But Reagan had a plan, a brilliant plan and one of the greatest bluffs of all time. He announced with a straight face the creation and quick deployment of what the press ironically and accurately called "Star Wars". We would develop and deploy by the end of the decade or so, an invincible shield around the United States which would destroy any and all incoming Soviet ballistic missiles. He then poured billions of dollars into the program and the new race began. Truth be told, we don't have the technology TODAY to create Star Wars, let alone back in the 1980's. Reagan had to know this. The Soviet Union knew it too.....but were so paranoid that they assumed since Reagan was pouring billions of dollars into it, there must be something to it. And over the next 10 years, they literally bankrupted themselves trying to create a Star Wars program of their own. Political turmoil raged within the Soviet Republics during the late 1980's into the 1990's. The Coup of 1991 was the death-knell for the Soviet Union and by the end of the year, the "invincible" Soviet Union was no more. Gorbachev gave up. Reagan's bluff had worked. The Evil Empire was no more.

I cheered! I wanted to go to Berlin when the wall came down but was in a similar financial state to the one I find myself in now. Then I went to the bookstore and suddenly all the "end of the world" books were irrelevant. I came to the shocking conclusion I had nothing to read!!!!!!!

I survived the early 1990's with science fiction, alternate history, but something was missing. I dabbled with horror stories but most of Stephen King's stuff gave me nightmares and the rest was too gory. Ann Rice's Vampire Chronicles was really good but became a little bit too gay for my taste. The last in the Lastat series, where the Vampire meets God and convinces him to experience humanity by living on earth as a human....Jesus....really caught my interest. I started scanning Christian fiction and, sure enough, Revelations provided a plethora of "end of the world" stories. I was saved! (fictionally, not biblically yet).

Through my travels in Christian Fiction, I came across a book entitled "The Left Behind" by Dr. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. It was subtitled "A Novel of the Earth's Last Days" and was the FIRST in a 12 book SERIES! This would keep me occupied for quite some time!

The first book starts with the hero, an airline pilot whose wife is a devout Christian patiently waiting for him to see the light, annoying him to the point where he's about to have an affair with an airline stewardess. The wife annoyed me too and I said "Go for it"! Then on a flight which would have ended up with the pilot and the stewardess in bed, the Rapture comes: a quarter of the world's population including people on the airplane mysteriously vanish. Planes fall out of the sky, unmanned cars, buses and trucks smash into was great! But LaHaye and Jenkins were very clever. Without ever being heavy-handed, they worked in the biblical prophesies that proved that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. I kept reading. By the time I got half way through the second book, I said to myself "OK, if the Rapture actually occurs and there's a bunch of empty clothes lying around, THEN I'll become a Christian. I kept reading. At some point into the 3rd or 4th book (I don't remember which), I said to myself "If I wait for the Rapture, I have to put up with 7 years of hell on earth. If I become a Christian first, then I'll be spared that by the Rapture." It was time to read the New Testament again.

This time, I was not alone. My friend who lived in Texas (I was still up north at this point) was an Evangelical Christian (former Catholic) who worshiped at his local church of Christ. The church of Christ believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible without men "improving it" or making the Bible a "living book subject to the times". They are non-denominational and worship in the same way first century Christians musical instruments, no choir; just worshiping the Lord, singing praises to Him, and learning more about his Word. I liked that: clean and simple.

The first thing he told me to do was to buy a copy of the New American Standard Version of the New Testament. It's the most accurate translation available, had no "thee's and thou's", and to call him with my questions.

I read the New Testament. I thought about it. I asked my friend some questions. I thought some more. Then I went back to reading the Left Behind books. A couple of books later, I stopped and re-read the New Testament. And thought about it. This time I prayed about it too. I asked more questions.

It all finally boiled down to this: either the New Testament was an incredible work of fiction or it was the inspired Word of God. I thought some more, I prayed some more, and I asked some more questions. Was I ready to make that leap of faith?

On April 5th, 2000 I picked up the phone and called my friend in Texas and said "I'm going to be in Dallas April 11th for a meeting, leaving April 12th. I want to be baptized after my meeting on April 11th." He asked me if I was sure. I was sure.

So on the night of April 11th 2000, he, his wife and 3 daughters and I went to his church. There were some people around but the central room where the baptismal rested behind the podium was empty. I was glad. This was a private thing to me.

We went into a back room and put on fishing waders. The Bible says full-immersion baptism and the church of Christ follows the Bible. While we were getting ready the preacher came back and said a few people asked if they could watch.....seeing someone reborn in Christ (as I would later understand) was a shared and moving experience. I sighed and said sure. After all, they were letting me use their church. But then I threw them a curve ball. I asked the preacher if there was anything prohibiting my friend from baptizing me instead of him. He laughed and said not at all. My friend went pale.

Now we're standing in the water behind a curtain. The curtain goes up.....and there are at least a hundred people sitting there! So much for my private moment.

My friend asked my the proscribed questions and I confessed my believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord, Savior and the Son of the Living God. Then under the water I went. A second later I arose a new creation in Christ. I had wondered if there would be another "mountain-top" moment. There wasn't, but the memory put a smile on my face. Everyone in the audience applauded and congratulated me. I took my friend and his family out to dinner to celebrate.

It was 22 years since my mountain-top experience until I finally understood enough to know I needed Jesus and I needed to be baptized. The Lord's time is not as our time. I still had questions, I still do today, and I will for the rest of my Christian life. But of this I am certain; neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers nor heights nor depths or any other created thing will separate me from the love of God through my Lord Jesus Christ. That's one of my favorite Bible verses. As I've mentioned in other posts, my life is not going well now, or for the last 2 and a half years. Job, finances, depression, stress, disaster, health.....yes, I'm in a world of hurt. In fact I'm miserable. But those are all things of this material world. For reasons known only to Him, God has given Satan license to attack me....and my "armor of God" has grown rusty, the sword and shield heavy. I'm tired and things get a little worse every day.

But I know that God loves me. I know he will not forsake me or allow me to be tempted beyond my capacity. I know Jesus will be waiting for me with open arms at Heaven's Gate. And he forgives each of my failures; each of my short-comings. He hears my prayers and answers every one of them.....usually with "later" or "no", but He hears and answers. And I pray constantly and praise Him and thank Him. I do have the best wife on the planet...who just survived major surgery and is recovering well, thanks to God. My life is miserable, I'm tired of living, but my soul is well. In the end, that's all that really matters.

POSTSCRIPT: I do need to mention that, ironically, many if not most Christians who worship at a church of Christ do not believe there will be a Rapture. There is only one passing mention of it in 1 Thessalonians 17:

16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

18Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

In fact, when I mentioned the Left Behind Series to a Preacher at one church of Christ congregation, he got red in the face and said "Those two of done more to hurt Christianity then help it!" I don't know: it certainly seems clear to me, but whatever the case, I owe the authors of the Left Behind Series and my friend Keith in Texas a debt I can never repay...they (and Mikhail, of course) brought me home to Jesus. Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Mrs. Unloadingzone

Mrs. Unloadingzone
"The Girl of my Dreams"