by Joe Griffo
Chapter 1- Cult Time
Chapter 2- Party Time
Chapter 3- Church Time
Chapter 4- Atheist Time
Chapter 5- Bar Time
Chapter 6- Jesus Time
"He who is forgiven much, loves much..." Luke 7:47 (Paraphrased)
The Flatbush Federal Savings Bank looked different tonight. The monolithic white and sunglass-looking building had a lot of stuff taped to it. A bunch of people hovered around it. It was a cool night in July, 1979 and I walked over to see what was up. It was art, pictures, and real good ones too. Engraving style pen drawings were printed on big laminated cards and taped to the black-tinted windows of the bank, a block from Brooklyn College. Drawn were verses from the Gospel of John. Detailed pictures of the first 21 verses of the chapter, telling the account of Nicodemus and his night time conversation with Jesus Christ. At the time I spent a lot of time drawing in the same medium. Pen and ink, India ink, felt tip markers, dip pens, big pads, I was always drawing comics and abstracts and all kinds of fun stuff. These drawings attracted me immediately. I was ushered through the progression of images that told the story of a religious man asking silly questions and getting direct answers. It was called "The Art Show", a parade of scenes from the Bible, a portable museum or giant comic book that was used to tell people the gospel. This was the chapter where Jesus says "Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."(John 3:3) It also was home to the most famous Bible verse of all time, John 3:16. I got to the end of the presentation and they asked me "Do you want to get saved?" We read some verses from Bob's pocket Bible, which told how everyone sins, how we're all guilty, and we all need help from God. Bob was one of the people who took me through this gospel gallery, along with Karen, who both knelt with me there on the Flatbush Ave sidewalk as I prayed and asked God to forgive me, for Jesus to make me His and the Holy Spirit to live in me.
I was always drawn to Jesus. The first time I ever saw Him was on TV, on the 4:30 movie after school. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 60s and 70s when I came home from school after homework there was on channel 7 a movie every day at 4:30 until 6pm. They even had themes some weeks. Like "This week its Western Week every day on the 4:30 movie". There was science-fiction week, and of course during Easter all the Jesus movies. Usually "King of Kings" with Jeff Hunter, "The Robe", "Barabbas", etc. I met the King of Kings for the first time in my living room in Brooklyn, I was about 8 years old. I heard Him say all the blessed ares. Talking of peacemakers, and love, and becoming children of God. I really liked this guy. He sounded different than any other grownup I ever heard before in my life. Most adults were always telling us what to do, how bad I was, hitting me, or punishing me. Teachers, my mother, and even other people on TV always had something bad to say about everybody. But not Jesus. I instantly liked Him, and wanted to be with Him, and wanted to be like Him. All it took was a few words. Then I saw rest of the story and His miracles and His Sacrifice. I was amazed and always watched these movies when they were on. We had no video rentals, no cable, no internet, we were at the mercy of TV scheduling.
Later I met Jesus again on that street on Flatbush Ave. That was thirty years ago. I am now married and have a daughter turning 21, live in world of computers and claptrap and cellphones and nonsense. But I still know Jesus Christ. I've gone through a roller-coaster maze obstacle course that would not be wished on any one. Now here it is. Jesus Christ is God, He's not religion, not church, not cults, not family, not traditions, not knowledge. And not drugs, not drinking, not friends, not money, not careers, not safety, not sex, not love, not hate, not position can fill the emptiness in me like Jesus Christ does.
It took me thirty years to realize this and really truly understand it. I hope you will come to experience the love and peace and life I do. From the time I was saved in 1979 til now in 2009 has been a journey much like the people of Israel in the wilderness. I could have moved a lot quicker, but I wound up going in circles, going the wrong way, going nowhere, and almost going crazy. Now I am home.
I want to share this experience with you so that you can benefit from my mistakes. There are a lot of things written in the Bible that happened to a lot of people, these things were not always good, not always happy, and not always pleasant. But these things were written down so we could learn from them.
Everyone thinks being a Christian is stupid. They think we don't have fun, and that we are giving up too much. They think we are narrow-minded, bigoted, and fearful people who are afraid to do anything. I'm here to set the record straight. Jesus Christ is the most amazing human being. History revolves around Him the way the galaxy turns on its axis in the space. I have come to know Him and want to tell you that being a Christian is the best thing that you can ever do or will ever be.
But being a Christian is NOT:
|> joining a church|
|> joining a religion|
|>being morally right|
|>being politically correct|
|> being a good person|
|> giving up bad things|
|> joining an organization|
|> joining a cult|
|>doing good deeds|
|>just going to heaven|
|>just avoiding hell|
|> just believing in God|
|> just reading the Bible|
Going to MacDonalds does not make you into a Big Mac. Visiting the White House does not make you the President. A mouse in a cookie jar is still a mouse. Going to church does not make you a Christian. Realizing that God is in love with you and accepting His love and forgiveness changes you into a Christian. Having a relationship with Him will transform you. It has taken a very long time for me to learn this, I hope it is not so long for you, so here we go.
CHAPTER 1 - CULT TIME
I went home from the Art Show in 1979 feeling happy. I understood something important took place. I was at peace. I did not understand what happened. I was actually given a booklet with the title "What Just Happened to You." It was a basic overview of what the pictures were about and the choice I had made. It described how Jesus paid for my sins, was crucified and punished in my place and rose from the dead. All I did was to accept this and put my faith in these events and I was now saved and accepted and forgiven by God. I was a new member in God's family.
Little did I know that people don't like to hear you talking about God, especially when He is named Jesus. My mom used to ask why I didn't just go to a 'regular' church. I insisted that this was the real thing and believed that the churches on the corner were phony. People always were going in and out of them, but they didn't really stand out from the rest of the world. It seemed that they were not changed or touched by God the way I believed I was. It seemed to me that we were the real believers and everybody else was playing church.
After a few days though old habits got the best of me. Rock and roll, smoking pot and drinking. I was hanging out on the streets with my friends again. Things were pretty much back to the previous routine.
One rainy night there was a voice frantically yelling outside my kitchen window. It was Bob using one of his booklets rolled up into a megaphone to speak through. He was saying how he had my next lesson in the series called the Lamb Course, and he wanted to give it to me. I said that's alright from my second story window sill. He pleaded with me a few more times, but all I saw was someone who wanted to take away my pot and beer and friends and music. I didn't want the party to stop. He gave up and melted into the rain and went home.
About a week later I ran into some other members coming out of a grocery store after buying cigarettes. They accusingly watched me put them into my pocket and asked me why I don't come to their house for Bible Study. Within a few days I did go to a Bible Study because deep down inside I was still pretty interested in learning more about Jesus. Instinctively I knew that the things I was doing were no good for me.
It turned out that this was more than a church, these people all lived together. All young men and women, from all over the eastern United States. They shared a big house and worked jobs like everybody else, came home and had Bible Studies in their home on certain nights. Other nights they would go out and show the Art Show that I had seen to people on the street. They had a small version in book form which we would use to show passers-by. Pretty soon I became a regular fixture at their Bible Study nights and went with them to a few retreat meetings. Their Pastor, Stewart looked like a cross between Santa Claus and Grizzly Adams, dressed always in green work shirt, brown denim pants and bible belt with multicolored markers in it like bullets on a cowboy belt. He invented a color code system of categorizing topics in the Bible. For example, red, the color of Christs' blood stood for Salvation. Brown, like the earth we were made from, represented verses about human nature, black was for sin, blue for our eternal life, and so on. We would ask each other, "what color is this verse?". We really thought we had cornered the market on Bible interpretation and that only Stewart really knew how to read the Bible properly. The church ironically called itself "The Church of Bible Understanding".
By 1980 I was a frequent visitor and an quite active member, going to meetings, doing Art Shows all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. At one meeting Stewart unveiled his latest pet project, called the Young Sheep House. A four-story walk-up apartment house was purchased by COBU and some younger members were voted on and picked to move in. They were selected to be trained and educated so that in 5 years time they would be sent all over the world to open new COBU houses and reach more people. I was one of those who got to move in and literally went to a meeting and never returned home. I abandoned my family and all my things as well. All I needed were clothes, and that was no problem. Part of me was striking out on my own, feeling independent. Part of me was running away from home, where my entire family were using drugs. Part of me actually believed the whole idea of going out to start new houses. And part of me was scared of growing up and living in this crazy world. COBU was a cozy club to live in and to hide in. I quit my mail room job and starting to work with other brothers in fixing up the building so more could move in. It was a four storey building, 2 apartments per floor, four floors and a full basement. We began tearing down old rotten sheet rock and molding as more talented brothers rebuilt with new materials. We lived in one of the parts of the building that was just recently renovated before we arrived. The plan was four apartments for the brothers, four for the sisters, one of each per floor.
Before long the building filled with more new recruits. In a bedroom that normally was for 1 or 2 people we had up to 10 bunking down barrack style. We slept on sleeping bags, foam rubber mattresses. The lucky ones got to use the bunk beds that were built originally before Stewart decided to pack us in.
We found a whole truckload of old wooden school auditorium chairs that were thrown out in the neighborhood and put them in the basement. That became our meeting place. It wasn't enough that we all lived together, ate together, slept next to each other, sometimes worked together, we had to meet together each night. Someone rigged up a phone to a speaker and Stewart would call us each night, his voice blasting through the speaker teaching us, or correcting us, or checking up on us. Some of the more confident and aggressive brothers wound up being leaders. A pecking order soon developed. Like the kids stranded in Lord of the Flies there were the smart ones, the athletic ones, the pushy ones, the nerds, etc. Stewart was very critical of people. In meetings or on the phone he loved to point out your flaws. "Jesus was disciplining you" he would say. He said it was God using him to love us and train us. But looking back now this was downright cruel. He set the tempo for the rest of the band. We began to look at each other with criticism. Sometimes groups of people would gang up on someone who was really out there and needed special help. We were a bunch of kids who were playing dress up by trying act mature. We were so far from being mature and so far from the truth. And most of all, we were so far from Jesus.
Stewart instituted a regimen of 17 rules for us to do each day. Our personal chart was hung publicly in the basement where each night we check off if we read the bible, witnessed for Jesus, prayed, etc. It was a legalistic approach to Christianity. We believed that if you did these tasks each day you were with God. We were building a tower of Babel and Stewart was Nimrod, the architect. We worked jobs and turned in our whole paycheck. A system existed where you got tokens to go to work and about $10 a week. COBU got the rest. Sometimes I got home from work and there was no more food left for dinner. I began to discover bones I never knew I had as pounds dropped off. Sometimes our nightly meetings would run late, until 1 or 2 in the morning. I would wind up sleeping at work.
COBU was at this point at its height of growth. It was 1981, and we had houses sprinkled from Pennsylvania to Washington DC/Virginia and as far north as Massachusetts. Besides Montreal, COBU covered the northeast US with a kind of Bermuda Triangle for unwary spiritual travelers. In Haiti we opened an orphanage in 1977 which was still operating. If you were a superstar you got to go there as a worker. The church bank account swelled to the point where the board decided to buy a small mansion in Princeton to protect the money from depreciation. Of course our Pastor lived there with his wife. His children who didn't ask him did not get to move in. In Philadelphia, COBU also owned a large single story building that was formerly a home for the blind that was used as the "Lamb House" where young teens could move in since the 70s.
COBU had started as a ragtag group called the Forever Family in Pennsylvania. Under Stewart's leadership they pooled money together for a house to share. And the rest was history. The group continued to grow as more houses became acquired or rented and COBU spread it's tentacles.
So by 1981 the Young Sheep House had over 100 of us who were being trained for international expansion. Stewart would occasionally stay there with his wife for a few days, blessing us with his special sessions. He also would maintain the other meetings with the rest of the church as well. We also would have The Big Meeting about 4 times a year where the whole church including Haiti personnel would attend. Usually at these gala gatherings were Stewart's cynical evaluations on a grand scale. Brothers and sisters would be embarrassed and humiliated before hundreds by Stewart's loving barbs. Sometimes he would ask us a question and no one would chirp out the right response. Sometimes for hours he would deal with alleged wayward brethren for hours. Other members would jump on his bandwagon and join the chorus of criticism. The best meetings were when we all sat in silence for hours on end, as some kind of weird punishment for some supposed unfaithfulness.
Our problem was that we imitated Stewart instead of Jesus. We did not realize it, but that is what we did. We thought that doing a lot of spiritual activity and talking in scriptures all the time made you a Christian. We were living on the surface. We would constantly judge and evaluate one another all the time. We were so busy working at our jobs, working spiritually, and looking at each other that no one was really looking at Jesus. When we did look at Him, it was through a distorted lens created by COBU.
We would always ask each other: "How is your faith in Jesus?" because Stewart always did. All the focus was always on how much 'faith' we had, how much we were doing, how many converts we had, etc. Our Christianity rested on our efforts and was measured by our results. The joy and peace I had experienced in the first few months after my conversion had now gone, swallowed up by rules and judgment. I had decided to leave. All I owned fit snugly in a green army bag which I carried over my shoulder downstairs to the front door to exit the building. A brother sat in the tiny lobby area behind the building's big front doors and asked where I was going. I told him it was laundry time, he reminded me we had our own machines in the basement. I lied saying they were out of order, he unlocked the outer wrought iron gate and I was free.
CHAPTER 2- PARTY TIME
I had moved back with my mom in early 1982. She had moved from our storefront apartment near Brooklyn College. Home was now a tiny place in a garden apartment complex near the southern tip of Brooklyn. In no time at all I was back to my old tricks of pot and drinking making new friends in the area. We lived right next to a huge park called Bensonhurst park. There I spent a lot of whooping it up with my pals. We are all in our early twenties, and almost every night gathered in the park at the checkerboard tables which became our outdoor living room.
Once again I joined a group that believed they were superior to the rest of the world. We thought everybody else lived a boring life going to work, and watching TV, and going to sleep. We fancied ourselves as 'party vikings'. We worked, but also enjoyed our lives to the fullest via alcoholic and chemical amusement. I had tried almost every drug created short of heroin. Sometimes we'd venture into Manhattan. One weekend we left for Greenwich Village Friday night and returned home Sunday afternoon. We were held together by the cords of addiction and bands of boredom. When you took drugs out of the equation, we really had nothing. The party lasted into the mid-80s.
One evening we were sitting and drinking behind my building. Ernie, who lived nearby, asked me if I wanted to go to church with him. I really thought he was joking. How could you party on Saturday night and go to church on Sunday morning? I still believed that Jesus was only available through the COBU channel. I did not think that you could get to God any other way. I would ponder returning to Christ and then realize it meant COBU and would cringe. God was about to teach me a very basic lesson. It would be not to throw Jesus out with the COBU bathwater. I would accept the truth that I could walk into any church and worship Him.
Needless to say the next morning I was sitting next to Ernie in church.
I was leaving behind the drinking and drugging again. I had spent the last 4 years taking so much junk into my body that in 1985 I went to the emergency room with a kidney stone while tripping on mescaline. Two days later I passed the stone in the hospital after witnessing by room mate dying hearing them zip his body bag from behind the bed curtain. I came home and swore over my coffee that I'd quit partying but that lasted about a week.
Now I was in church, the place I thought was phony, and where people played with God like a toy. I once had sat in judgment, and now I had knelt in repentance.
Once again the joy of the Lord filled me. Hungry for the Word of God, I attended every service, and even services at other churches too. Almost every night I was in church. Ernie's mom moved upstate with his brother so I moved in with Ernie. We both worked in the same place, so we would go to work together and hang out together. Our friend John who was another 'party viking' turned out to be another wayward Christian who started coming over, also rededicating his life to Jesus. The three of us would have Bible studies and try to tell our friends about being born again, but they were still in their party mode.
It turns out that Ernie was also a former member of COBU. He had lived in the Worcester house in Massachusetts. He was thrown out into the street for not meeting their standards. Also Maureen, who taught Sunday school at church, was from COBU also. She told me a couple of weeks later that she had seen my name and address written down on some papers she still had in her home from her COBU days. God gave her a burden to pray for me. She told me how she just felt God really wanted her to pray on my behalf. The next week I walked into her church. The next year we were engaged to be married.
CHAPTER 3 - CHURCH TIME
The Church was named The First Assembly of God, located on East 10th Street and Avenue N in Brooklyn. It was an Assemblies of God church. That meant that it was part of a nationwide denomination that had churches throughout the country. Jimmy Swaggert, the TV preacher who fell into sin and repented on his show was an Assemblies of God minister. The denomination was basically a modern version of Pentecostalism. We believed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were still in effect today. In the Bible the apostle Paul wrote of brethren being able to speak in other tongues not learned by them. Believers would pray for you and lay hands on you and sickness could be cured. Someone would come to you during a meeting and know all about your secret desire you prayed about. God gives people in the church certain abilities at certain times to do certain things to encourage and help fellow believers. Most other Christian sects denied the existence of these gifts. So once again I was part of a special group that was different and better than the rest.
Soon instead of going to Sunday school I was teaching Sunday School. I was learning new things not heard of before in COBU like the grace of God. Basically humans are unable to earn anything from God. God's love and mercy and power are infinite. Our sin had to be paid for and removed, so we could be in fellowship with God. It didn't matter if you told a white lie in the playpen or if you were Adolph Hitler. We all crossed the line of disobedience. We all inherit a marred human nature, which only God Himself could repair and forgive. Help and restoration had to come from outside, not within. As the proverb said, a leopard could not change it's spots. But Jesus could wash them away.
Because Maureen and I had been in COBU, it was like we had been in the big league, and this church was like being in the little league. We were more educated in the scriptures than most. We got more involved in ministry than most did. This made us the perfect people to be taken advantage of.
On January 30, 1988 we were married by Pastor Jay. We were now in our new church building on Avenue J off Kings Highway in Brooklyn. A few months earlier the owners of the previous church asked us to leave because neighbors complained about our loud Sunday worship. A synagogue on Avenue J was for sale and we converted it into a church. (No pun intended). We moved several miles from our former area. Some members did not want to make the adjustment. Some did for a while, but stopped coming. So we lost some people as a result of moving the church.
I helped with the work of renovating the new place. We had to paint, build a platform, get carpet, and more. Pastor Jay went into debt making sure the sanctuary had everything. He moved into the apartment above the church that was part of the property. Downstairs we had a full basement that became our place for the children to have their church.
Less than one year after we were married Pastor Jay told me he was going to Florida. He said that God wanted him to start another church there.
He had the idea of me being his assistant pastor. I was elated and agreed. I thought I had arrived and was going up the ladder in God's kingdom. Little did I realize that soon I would be going down the drain.
The congregation was not happy at all. Understandably they felt abandoned so soon after moving. Compared to Pastor Jay I was the new kid who people liked, but most did not know me, or trust me to be their leader. in Pastor Jay's mind I was more of a babysitter than a pastor. He would send a lot of guest speakers to preach there. I was basically the host who opened the service, took the offering and said goodbye. Once in a while I got the chance to preach. Maureen and I and our newborn daughter Maria now lived upstairs. We paid rent, although Pastor Jay recorded it as a monthly donation. Maureen worked part time at home. I worked full time in Manhattan, and also conducted three services weekly. I was not paid by the church, but was still glad to serve.
Members would murmur by long distance to Pastor Jay. If they did not like what I was wearing during a service they called him and told him. If there was no toilet paper in the bathroom, that was reported also. I was in a position of great responsibility. I had no authority and was bypassed all the time. I would deposit the weekly offerings into the church's bank account. Pastor Jay would then pay the bills from his new home in Florida.
The phone rang one day and Pastor Jay told me that the church owed $10,000 total in unpaid mortgage. He wanted me to tell the congregation we needed this money soon or we would lose the property to foreclosure. I asked the church once and felt horrible afterwards. I resigned, packed up my things, and my family and I moved out.
Looking back I now wonder if Pastor Jay knew that this new church was not able to financially survive. Maybe he saw it coming and left me in the lurch. Maureen in her heart knew I was making the wrong choice in taking the role Pastor Jay gave me. She kept silent because she thought that good Christian wives should support their husbands. My wife, daughter and I were now alone and starting our lives all over. This time I left with more than only a duffle bag.
We joined another church named New Jerusalem, located on West 7th Street in Brooklyn. For months we just sat in the pews, recovering from the events at First Assembly. We just wanted to rest and heal and hear God's word. It was good to be a member, instead of a teacher, or deacon, or pastor. Soon we began to stir in our desire to serve and became home group leaders. We would have Bible study in our home once a week. Mostly younger people from the church came to our house and we all were blessed as Jesus would reveal Himself through His word. We would have coffee and cake later and hang out and get to know each other.
All went sour one day when the Pastor requested I rebuke one of the home group members. She was going through a divorce and was seen by other church members with a new male friend. Drawing their own conclusions, they complained to the Pastor, who complained to me. I asserted that it was not my place to rebuke her, that this matter was between her and God. He was more concerned about how things looked and insisted I straighten her out. He himself had just divorced his wife of almost 20 years and was concerned about how things appeared. I was not going to do something that I believed was not Christlike to alleviate someone's fear of man. Once again it was time for us to go.
Next it was onto to New Hope church. The Pastor told us one day the church was $72,000 in the red. He asked if we could please give a little more to help in this time of crisis. After getting the runaround for requesting a financial statement I made an appointment to talk to him. He wrote me a church budget summary on a yellow pad with pencil as we sat together in his office. I asked him how the church got so deep in the hole so fast. He said it happened over time and God told him to now ask for help. I expressed to him my take on giving. I told him we should give because we love God and His church, and want the church to be kept open. We should not give so God could bless us back tenfold with jobs and cars and houses and cash and prizes. For the most part that this was how he and most pastors would take offerings. He agreed with me but said this is what works and that's why he does it. Again we found the exit and never returned. Another church we visited preached we should keep having babies and not use credit cards. Soon I stopped attending church. Soon I stopped reading the Bible. Soon I stopped praying. The seeds of cynicism had found their perfect soil. Since childhood my own mother would always tell me what was wrong with me. COBU was not much help either. After going to these so-called normal churches I was tired of joining a church only to find later it was hypocritical or abusive or just plain greedy. I only saw the faults. I was swallowed by my own cynicism. To my shame and intense pain and hurt I then turned away from Jesus. Cynicism had bore it's toxic fruit in me.
CHAPTER 4- ATHEIST TIME
I became an angry and bitter person. Skeptical, cynical, and miserable, I began to read writings of agnostics and atheists to fuel my thoughts and ease my conscience.
I was also amazed how every time we left a church no one cared. Nobody called, none rang the door bell to see if we were alright. No one missed us. It was conditional love. I'll be your pal if you come to my clubhouse. I'll love you if you sit next to me in church. I'll love you if you don't rock the boat. I'll love you as long as you keep your mouth shut. This conditional love discovery just gave me more reason in my warped mind to continue down my slippery road.
I progressed from questioning, then to doubting, then to attacking. I went from: I don't go to church, to: I'm not sure if there is a God, to: I am an atheist. Deep down inside me there was a voice that always reminded me of Christ. No matter what I thought or believed in my mind, there was still a tiny whisper in the depths. I would ignore that voice, and spent a lot of time and energy to try to drown it out. I thought if I learned enough I would be alright.
I returned to the things that used to make me happy. I became a good little consumer buying all kinds of things to clutter my house and my soul. I was trying to fill the emptiness I created with things of this life. Books, movies, computer games, and countless other novelties. We wound up in serious debt. I was no longer happy at work. I would have fits of anger.
I would bring my wife to tears as I would blow up over the tiniest thing.
I began psychotherapy at my wife's request. In all that transpired she still clung to God. Our daughter still young was spared a lot of my temper. Almost three years later I emerged from therapy more balanced and able to manage my rage. Somehow I was able to control my anger and dismiss my inner anxiety.
No surprise, I esteemed myself better than most people. I imagined my self smarter and more in touch with reality. I was more level-headed because I did not need God or religion to live. I just accepted life as it is and lived it. In my twisted perception I thought I was above the crowd and superior once again. Underneath it all I was insecure and always had to think of myself higher than I really was. For someone who thought they were in touch with reality I was pretty far away. I was about to go even further into illusion.
I started going to a bar in my neighborhood. It was Superbowl time and they threw a party with free food and a giant TV to watch the game. I went with some friends and had fun laughing and drinking and eating. I was back on the streets like a teenager getting drunk and hanging out. Gradually I would go there and hang out. It was a few blocks from my house, and a few doors down from my job.
My sick arrogance returned as I was delighted with my new refuge. I continued my delusion of thinking how I was better than everybody because I knew how to enjoy myself. That was my lie I always told myself. No matter what I was doing or what state I was in I was better than the rest. Not any more.
CHAPTER 5- BAR TIME
I began this tale on Flatbush Ave, now it has landed on Kings Highway. We left First Assembly about 1990 as far as I can recall. We then went to several churches up until around 1995. Now it was 2004 and I began my flirtation with death. I would go to the bar once maybe twice a week. I started to meet new people. I became friends with the owners. I started to meet more people from the neighborhood.
Soon I was sitting there drinking 2 or 3 times a week. Once in a while I would stay out late until 3 or 4 a.m. I was so happy to have a place to go to and be with friends and have a good time. We actually did nothing but drink and watch TV, and tell each other stories from the past to make each other laugh. We then would do the "do you know" routine. To breed more familiarity someone would ask, "Do you know 'Joey Gagootz' from 3rd Street?, Remember him?" And then someone else would yell from the other end of the place, "Yeah!! I used to go with his sister!!". Soon there would be a waterfall of drunken data about 'Joey Gagootz'. "Yeah, he lived over the bakery when we were in school...". On and on it would go, until he reminded us of someone else and the process would repeat.
It was exciting sometimes. Fights would break out. Arguments erupted over the silliest things. The cops would come in looking for people. God was still with me, protecting me. I always had a sense that nothing would happen to me there. One night someone I knew got into a fight, and his eye was damaged. He had to push it back in. I actually felt a burden to pray for him, and did. I actually felt I could not rest until I prayed for him. I went with him to the hospital and a few days later you could not tell anything happened to his eye. Could it be that God was also healing my eye spiritually? Was I so damaged in the spirit and now Jesus pushed my eye back into my head and prayed for me and I began to see again?
I had escalated from drinking to pills and other illegal drugs. I would go to the bar on a Saturday, come home and sleep it off most of the the next day. I would then get up, eat watch TV etc. and go back to sleep and be in shape again Monday for work. Then repeat the process, dragging myself to work the next day. Every other night I was there. My life consisted of working, drinking/drugging, and sleeping. Depending on what drugs I took sometimes I would lay in bed and wonder if I would wake up the next day.
One night I felt like I was drowning. I laid in bed, feeling like I was dying. I prayed in my mind. All I said was "Help me, if there is anyone there please help me. I don't know who is there, but please help me."
A couple of weeks later I came home and got into bed and broke down. I told my wife that I was not just drinking but abusing drugs and was scared and out of control and I needed help. I was sick and I had enough. The kid in the candy store had eaten the whole shelf and was now covered in his own vomit. I wanted out. God had let me go to the edge of the cliff and even peer over the side. I was scared. I was ashamed. I was broken and needed major repairs.
The next day I went to an AA meeting that was located a block from my house. They met everyday at noon. Also Sundays at 11 a.m. I was out of work at that point and was looking for a job. In the mean time I went to AA everyday. I was still smoking cigarettes, but that was the only drug entering my body now.
I got there early one day and was reading The Big Book, the AA manual. I flipped to the chapter called "We Agnostics". I thought often how could I do this? I'm so far from God and wasn't sure still if I believed. The words I read leapt off the page and smacked me across the face: "Who are you not to believe in God?" The book became a person speaking to me. It was as if God was shaking me saying "Wake up, wake up!" I later prayed to God asking Him "Who are you?, Are you Jesus, Buddha, or someone else?" I thought maybe I was wrong before and wanted to believe in Him the right way.
During my years of substance abuse I never took care of myself. Now I did, I went for a checkup, eye examination, and a chest x-ray. Coming home from the x-ray I got off the bus and decided to walk the rest of way home. as soon as I hopped out the back door of the bus I spotted an envelope nearby. I picked it up to see if had anything in it. It was empty, I turned it over. In the center of the envelope front was one word, an answer to my recent prayer, written neatly in pen:
CHAPTER 6- JESUS TIME
When you build a house sometimes you do not do it properly. You have to tear it down and start over. Paul said "I have been crucified with Christ, I no longer live. The life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
All my Christian life I tried to run the show and did not even realize it. I was now reduced to Christ. All I had now was a piece of paper that said "Jesus". God took away the cult, the church, the doubt, the drugs, all gone.
I was back to square one. I was on the street again instead of looking at the Art Show about Jesus I was looking at His name. Him. Jesus Christ.
God took away the cult, and I thought that Jesus was only in the cult. Then God took away the church, I thought He was only in the church. He even allowed me to choose to go my own way. All I did was wind up with Him.
I realized the most important thing. He was not in any of those things. He was in me. He was always with me. He never left me. When I left COBU He was there. As I muddled through various churches, He stood by and saw everything. When I turned my back on Him He was still facing me. While I sat in the bar He saw me in my emptiness try to fill it. I gave up on church, on Him, on myself. Jesus never gave up on me. There are friends who pretend to be friends, and then there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. He said He would never leave me. He said He would never cast me out. He said He would never forget me. I did all these things to Him and He still loves me and forgives me. He is still with me.
He answered all my doubts. He rebuilt the house the right way. He showed me many proofs that the Bible is real and the true word of God. He then taught me that knowing Him is the most important thing. All things come from Him. Apart from Him I can do nothing. I can't live the Christian life. When I surrendered I realize that He runs the Universe, made the Universe, and holds the Universe. He lives through me and as I continue to surrender to Him I become like Him. We become one.
Jesus prayed that we would be one as He and the Father are one. He did not pray that we should be good little Christians. He did not pray that we get busy with church activity until we burn out. He did not pray that we judge and analyze everyone's behavior. He prayed that we would be one. That we would be the same, conformed into His image. That He would take root in us and cause us to be like Him. All our best efforts can't do a thing.
He is infinite. We are finite. He is God. We are dust. We are helpless. He loves us. His power is infinite. His love has no end. His mercy goes on forever. His grace is eternal. His goodness is everlasting. All His promises are firm because He does not change as we do.
Jesus wants us to rest in Him. He said the greatest commandment is to love Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. He then said the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. Paul said we are to offer ourselves as a spiritual sacrifice. To give ourselves over to God's care. Give Him your heart, your mind. Let Him give you His Heart and His Mind. Give Him your soul and strength. He will give your yearning soul the rest it needs and give you His Strength. Peter said by his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a Godly life. Paul said in Christ are hidden all spiritual treasures. We have all we will ever need in Christ. When you are saved that is placed in you. All you need to live this life and the Christian life is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the fullness of God in bodily form, and He lives in His believers. This is how we are able to love, Jesus is loving through us.
It has been almost one year since I walked into AA and began my recovery. God is rebiulding me. I have not drank, taken any drugs, not even smoked cigarettes. And it is not because I am clenching my teeth and saying "I can do it, one more day." I can say with all honesty I stopped because I DO NOT WANT THESE THINGS anymore. God is filling me with such contentment that there is no place for them anymore in my heart.
I live a pure life in Christ not because I have to. Not because Stewart has a chart for me to follow. Not because the Pastor is concerned with outward appearance and what people will say. Not because if I am good God will love me more. Not because I think I am different or better than anyone else.
The reason is simple. Jesus is God. God is All-Powerful. I trust God knows what He is doing. Who am I to question how He runs the universe? He made everything that is, all life comes from Him, He is everywhere, He knows everything there is to know. He is infinite in all His abilities. His love is infinite, and HE LOVES ME. So I have totally given all control to God and have nothing to fear. To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. "The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear, What can mere people do to me?