A SOFTENED HEART
I grew up in a practicing Jewish home. I was educated in Hebrew School two afternoons each week. I also attended several hours on Saturdays and Sundays. The Conservative branch with which I was affiliated was middle-of-the-road Judaism. The Orthodox studied and practiced more fervently, but the Reform were more apt to change with the times. Unlike the Orthodox branch, Conservative men and women worshipped together rather than separately. And unlike the Reform branch, Conservative Judaism incorporated a lot of Hebrew into its services. Every child learned to read and write Hebrew while still in grade school. Mind you, most of us could not understand it or speak it, including me.
The purpose of Hebrew School was to knit the traditions of the fathers into the DNA of the students. We were immersed in Jewish tradition starting in grade school, and during early teenage years we engaged in spirited discussions around the social issues of the day. At the age of thirteen I had a traditional Bar Mitzvah, which is translated “son of the law”. In these modern times it is more of a coming of age celebration. Every Jewish boy participates in this rite of passage. My Bar Mitzvah was celebrated in the only synagogue my family ever attended.
The local synagogues started a marvelous tradition in my home town. Sponsoring an annual trip to Israel for high school teens, the very first tour was in the summer of 1970, and I was blessed to be a part of that trip. Seeing the Holy Land through Jewish eyes had a profound effect on me. Some of the sights gleaned from the seven week tour are permanently etched in my mind.
The Torah, that which we know as the law, along with portions of the Prophets and writings, was read every Sabbath in the synagogue. But there was no understanding of the Hebrew words. Even as a regular attendee of the Friday night and Saturday morning Sabbath services, I had no idea what God’s word said. Students were not instructed to read the Bible. We did not receive Biblical instruction either, something that is surprising to most Christians. When our Bible was opened the right page was written in Hebrew, and the left page showed the English translation. I did not understand what the Hebrew page said because I never read the English; nor was I encouraged to read it.
But God was working in my life then, to expose what all my Jewish education and training never told me. As a freshman in college, my Christian roommate had been asking the Lord for someone he could witness to. In the fall of 1973 I was the answer to his prayer and he told me about Jesus constantly. Needless to say, my heart was hard. My deeply seeded tradition resulted in an outright rejection of his compassion.
The following spring as I was preparing to leave for home to celebrate the Passover, my roommate told me that Jesus is our Passover. I had heard enough from him, and clearly told him to leave me alone. Upon arriving home I cornered my rabbi, and told him about the encounter. He treated it like a minor issue and told me to pay no attention to my roommate. Since I felt he did not understand the gravity of my plight, I added that my roommate was actually praying for me, something I did not comprehend. My rabbi responded by saying, “So…let him pray.” He had no idea what he had just endorsed.
In the fall of 1977 God started intervening in my life, and He did not even ask for my permission. I took a job with a company selling pictorial church directories – Christian ones, not Jewish. Several employees in the company, and a few people in the churches where I was assigned to sell portraits, witnessed to me. Unbeknownst to me, God continued to move in my life no matter where I went or what I did. By 1985 I had obtained an insurance license. I met a couple named Dennis and Joyce who told me their family had been praying for a specific product I had introduced to them. It was not just coincidence to them but rather providence, God orchestrating our meeting as agent and client. They quickly concluded our meeting was due to divine intervention. Was I a Christian, Dennis and Joyce asked? I squared my shoulders and defiantly retorted, “No! I’m Jewish.” I had worked on that response for years, and usually the answer was accompanied with all the body language necessary to put an end to the subject. And it usually did. But my answer enticed Dennis. He enthusiastically proclaimed, “Oh, you’re one of God’s chosen people!”
Groaning internally, I thought to myself, “Oh no – he is another one of those fanatics.” Dennis called me every few weeks to ask questions about the product they had just purchased. I did not have my commission check yet so I reluctantly went back to their home to answer their questions, more interested in closing the deal than any other further discussions about God. After arriving at their home, though, Dennis and Joyce witnessed to me.
This went on for a couple of months, being called to their home to answer policy questions – and the discussion turned to Jesus and the Bible. Dennis and Joyce were listening to the Lord as He told them to pursue me. They showed me picture books of Israel, videos, and even took me to one of their meetings, all in an effort to convince me that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. I just wanted them to follow through with their purchase. On the other hand, they only wanted to be obedient to the Lord.
It was during this time period that I met a woman who took me to a home group. They sang the most beautiful, wonderful songs there. Only it was not a sing-a-long. It was worship. One song especially caught my attention: the words invited the Holy Spirit to come.
I returned two weeks later only to hear the same beautiful, compelling songs. When worship ended, I asked, “What is this Holy Spirit you people keep singing about?” The woman who owned the home answered me from across the living room. But the strangest thing happened. I watched her lips move. I heard the English words coming from her mouth speaking discernable sentences. She continued for several minutes. But I could not understand a thing she was saying – could not comprehend anything. It was as if something prevented me from understanding a single word.
Have you ever read that the Jews request a sign (1 Corinthians 1: 22)? While I could understand none of what she said, an unusual sensation overtook me and I knew something supernatural was happening to me. The sign my stubborn Jewish heart demanded and received was this: the Holy Spirit entered me and flooded me with His peaceful presence. I had asked for a definition of the Holy Spirit, and unable to hear her explanation, the Lord made sure the Holy Spirit met me right then and there. I was immediately introduced to the One they were singing about, the Holy Spirit. He was in me. And I was not even saved yet!
It had been thirteen years since my college roommate first told me about Jesus. It was eleven years since I had seen him. God, in His providence, kept putting more Christians in my path. Throughout all those years people kept telling me about a personal relationship with Jesus. All the reasoning in the world did not change my mind. But when the Holy Spirit came into me, I immediately began to realize God’s power as a result of His manifest presence.
However, my mind was like concrete – mixed up and well set. It took three more months of going to the home group and attending a church, before my deeply embedded traditions were overcome, and my heart completely melted. I accepted Jesus as my Savior in January of 1986. And after learning to submit more and more to Him as the years pass, I am living the best years of my life.