I thought I’d take this time to re-post my own story of how I decided to follow Jesus. In other words, How did a guy like me end up writing a blog like this?I was raised in a non-religious Jewish home. I emphasize the term “non-religious” because I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. No side curls, no Hebrew classes, just an occasional Yiddish phrase and matzo ball soup. I had no idea about any of the reasons for some of the holidays we celebrated. I thought Passover was a food holiday – “Pass over the matzos please. Pass over the bitter herbs!” Seriously, I had no idea. I just knew we didn’t believe in Jesus because I asked my mom several times after watching Davy and Goliath or something like that.
The God issue wasn’t something that we discussed much, but I had thought about it some. I remember early on thinking it was kinda silly to believe in God. I understood later, that people believed in God, as I saw it, to help them cope with life and mortality or hardships or whatever. I didn’t really have a problem with people doing this if it helped them cope. When I got older though, I met people who didn’t just casually believe in a divine coping mechanism (the invisible friend for grownups) but who were making life choices as a result of this belief. These people were choosing to not do some of the things that I was doing – they were choosing not to have the kind of fun that (it seemed to me) high school kids ought to have because of this concept of God. That seemed ludicrous to me. It seemed to me that Christians were being stupid about this and so I saw it as my duty to let them know.
I was that guy in high school – the outspoken skeptic. I wouldn’t have called myself an atheist because I thought to speak authoritatively that there is no God seemed equally foolish. My argument was that it was impossible to know.
During my senior year in high school, my buddy Chet and I applied to work at The Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland. We got accepted and shortly after my 18th birthday, we began to work in “Outdoor Vending.” My job title was a “culinary host” which meant that I sold ice-cream, popcorn and balloons.
On day 2 of my employment, I was assigned a trainer for the day to learn the art and science of ice-cream sales. It’s a complicated science that requires 8 hours together with a trainer. You take the order, take the money, open the lid, pull out the desired frozen treat and smile. It’s very complex. So the trainer assigned to me for the day was a young woman named Cynthia. Cynthia had a personality as big as life. She laughed loud, smiled big and just seemed to get a lot out of life. It turns out, and I found out quickly, that she was also one of those enthusiastic, life changed, born again Christians – but like I said, she had a pretty engaging personality and we became friends in spite of her deep convictions.
So during that summer if she was working at a nearby popcorn or ice cream wagon, and I was on a break, I would stop by to visit. And every single time, I kid you not, she would start to tell me something about the God she believed in. She would have Bible verses on 3X5 cards that she was using to actually memorize portions of the Bible! And she would show me what was on her card and say something like, “Mike, look at this. Look at how much God loves you. Isn’t that amazing?” And I would respond with something like, “That’s great for you, but it’s not my thing.” Undaunted, we would have a similar conversation the next time we met.
I think it was her consistency of her life and message (and for those of you wondering, no, I wasn’t really interested in dating her or anything) and she seemed so earnestly convinced of this God stuff that I started to re-visit the whole God question in my head. Is there a God? If there is a God, is he somebody I need to worry about? Does it ultimately make a difference? Who could I ask about this? Who’s been talking to me non-stop about God since the day I met her?
So I was working on Main St. at popcorn wagon #2 and I decided to send a note to Cynthia to come and chat with me when she got a chance. As a sidelight and a bit of Disney trivia, when popcorn venders want to communicate with each other in those days, we of course couldn’t leave our wagons. We were stuck in one place and so we would use the sweepers. They were mobile and they were the pony express of the Disney world. So Cynthia got my note and came out at the end of her shift and I told her what I had been thinking about.
Literally, just at that moment, a sweeper came by. “Hey Joe,” Cynthia called, and Joe came sweeping over, “You still have that Gospel of John on you?” Joe said, “Sure,” pulled a gospel of John out of his breast pocket and handed it to me. Cynthia said, “Mike, if you want to know about God, the best person to ask is God. Say, ‘Lord I want to know you and I want to know more about you.’ And then sit down and read this Gospel of John.”
I said, “okay” and I took that book home and I probably prayed that prayer 100 times (by the way, had I known I was praying, I probably wouldn’t have done it). And the more I prayed, the more I thought, “Yeah, God, if you are real, I want to know you.” So finally, I sat down on our couch in the living room and read the book from cover to cover.
Now I’d heard about Jesus before this time, mainly as something you yell when you’re really frustrated, but I’d never really known any of the story. This was my first encounter with him and I have to tell you, he impressed me. There was something to this guy – something, dare I say…spiritual? Something was happening to me as I read it – for the first time in my life, I began to believe in God. I still wasn’t sure what to do with Jesus and how he fit into it all. There was a verse in John 14:6 where Jesus claimed to be the only way to God and I remember thinking that was a pretty narrow statement and it excluded my people – even though I wasn’t an observant Jew, that seemed like a big hurdle.
But I went off to Whittier College as a freshman and I started to enter into the God discussion as a participant rather than an antagonist. This was a new experience. I remember being surprised at how many people believed in God as I met Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Mormons and every Joe blow with their own homespun theology. And as I compared notes, I realized all of their theologies had complexity to them. All of their gods had personality and ideas and history and values and the God I believed in was empty and void – he needed help and so I enhanced him. I began to construct God out of the conversations I’d been having. A little of this, a dab of that and voila I had my god. By the end of the school year, he had become more complex and I was proud of him.
On June 15 of that year, I stepped into The Raven bookshop in La Canada and ran into one of my Christian friends from high school who I used to pick on. I said, “Hey Denise, how’re you doing?” “Praise the Lord,” she replied, “I’m just serving Jesus…” and blahbity blahbity blah about Jesus and I replied, “I have my beliefs.” “Really,” she exclaimed, “I’d love to hear them.” And so in the next 30 seconds, I unpacked all of my complex theology (I remember thinking, “Is that all?” I guess I hadn’t developed my theology as much as I had thought) and Denise shook her head and cleared her throat and said, “we need to talk.”
So there we were right in the middle of the bookstore, talking about God, “In our culture, Mike,” she continued, “Wouldn’t you agree that if we’re talking about God, then more often than not, we’re probably talking about the God of the Bible.” I thought about it – if there wasn’t a Bible we probably wouldn’t know much about God and so I replied, “sure.” She said then, “It seems to me that if we’re claiming to believe in the God of the Bible, we should believe what the Bible says about the God of the Bible.” I agreed.
There is a verse in the New Testament book of Romans – Romans 10:9,10 which says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that He is risen from the dead, you will be saved.” Denise explained to me a lot about the God of the Bible. She answered a lot of my objections and I knew that I needed to quit avoiding the inevitable and I needed to start following the God that Denise followed whatever that meant. And I really had no idea what that meant. But I also knew that I didn’t want to be a freak and so I was going to keep that decision to myself. I wasn’t going to confess that with my mouth before anyone.
As it turns out, God knew what I was thinking. And so just a few hours later, that same evening, I was working at Disneyland. I wasn’t actually working in the park itself but rather was blowing up balloons for the evening in the balloon room. I was only able to interact with guests in the park for 15 minutes when I was giving a balloon vender a break. So there I was, standing with a bunch of Mickey Mouse balloons under the people mover when this guy walked up to me. I had never seen him before and I have never seen him since. But he walked up to me and said, “Excuse me. I’d like to know if you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior.”
I thought for a moment and replied, “Yes, as a matter of fact I have.” He said, “okay,” and took off into the crowd (and who knows? Back to heaven?). That was that. I went back to the balloon room where a # of my Christian friends were working and I told them what happened, that this weird guy came up to me and…They got very excited and word got out among the believers in outdoor vending and we started a Bible study with the sweepers and the vendors. And I got a good strong start to my Christian life.
That God was in such obvious pursuit of me is something that still moves me. And the events of June 15 following my freshman year in college 30+ years ago still wow me. But that was just the beginning. More stories to come soon. I’d love to hear yours!