As a first grader, I would sneak into my bed at night, clasp my hands together, recite the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, and pray in Jesus’ name, just as I had learned in public school. I had received some incredible prayer answers, but when I was eight, I learned that I was being Jewish meant and that Jews aren’t supposed to do such things. Unfortunately, I put my ethnicity above my childlike understanding of a God who answered my prayers, and thus quit praying. This one decision condemned me to a life of sorrow, loneliness, and nihilism.
In fact, I became defiant of anything “Christian”. During Christmas school concerts, I would stand alongside my classmates, arms folded, refusing to sing the Carols. Even my younger brother would taunt me by waving a red ‘45’ of Silent Night in my face. I was convinced that it should have no place in our Jewish home and repeatedly tried to find and destroy it.
At the time of my Bar Mitzvah, my father took me to the synagogue to see the rabbi. We passed a room where a minion of men were davening (praying). Strangely drawn, I longed to join them but dared not say anything to my father.
I also became well-acquainted with anti-Semitism and its bullying during Junior High. I couldn’t fight every anti-Semite, but I could hate them, and that’s just what I did. The hatred then exploded into disgust for the surrounding “Christian society,” so much so that I sensed that the Gentiles had a repugnant odor.
In 1967, I was a confused and vulnerable student at UC Berkeley, where I ingested a lot of radical talk. But it was also the time of the Six-Day War. Divergent reports were coming from Israel and the Arab world, which claimed that they were at the point of crushing Israel. Finally, it was confirmed – Israel had crushed the combined air and ground forces of the attacking nations. A sigh of relief went up from the Jewish students, who then returned to their classes, but I remained crying with head covered.
I became a committed Zionist and left for Israel with a one-way ticket where I lived for two years. Israel became my reason-for-being, but this was where my search for God began. My five highly recommended psychotherapists had utterly failed to make a dent in my chronic depression. Meditation never worked, and no other self-help possibilities were in sight. That left God. Whenever I heard about a Jew who had a relationship with God, I pursued him with a series of questions. Finally, one friend suggested that I visit Kfar Chabod (Lubavitcher Hasidism), where I stayed for a week, asking my array of questions, but never receiving satisfying answers.
One evening while at Kfar Chabod, a young American Jewish man approached me:
· “Daniel, last year, I was right where you are now. But there’s a Tzaddik (the holiest of rabbis) in Tel Aviv, who can demonstrate to you, beyond a doubt, that the Tanach (the Hebrew Scriptures) is the Word of God!”
The next evening, we were in Tel Aviv, where my friend had arranged a private consultation with the Tzaddik. At first, he studied me intently with his penetrating, deeply set eyes. Then, he began shaking his head: “You are not ready to study Torah. There is too much confusion and tension in your life. Go find yourself a good Jewish community to live in. Follow their program and come back in a few months, and we’ll talk again.”
“Talk?” I hadn’t even opened my mouth up, and he had already pronounced judgment! Essentially, he was saying that I had to first get my life together, before God could be of any use to me. But this was why I had come to him! I couldn’t get my life together! God seemed to be my only hope, but the Tzaddik was telling me that God couldn’t help me unless I first helped myself. I left feeling rejected by life itself. However, in my heart-of-hearts, I knew he was right. Somehow I was a looser.
What a contrast with the God of Scripture who has proved His words to me:
- Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Several years later, after trying various Kibbutzim, I returned to the States, with a wife and infant daughter. We found an Appalachian hill farm at the end of a dead-end road, hoping that if we’d live in harmony with nature, we would experience the peace of nature. One day, after my wife went to town, I had a life-threatening chainsaw injury. Through my clumsiness, the chainsaw bucked back and struck me in the head. In terror, I lifted my hands to my skull to see if it was still in one piece, or if I would have to push my brains back into my head. When I lifted my hands, I saw that one of my hands was hanging half off with the blood squirting out like a fire hose.
Laying in a pool of blood, thinking that any moment would be my last, having lost so much blood, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t alone. I knew that God was with me, and I was filled with intense feelings of love, ecstasy, and peace. I knew that God loved me and that He’d protect me. Even if I died, I would still be with Him forever. After a miraculous rescue, this experience prompted me to search for Him, whoever He might be, but the last place I had wanted to look was Christianity. I had been interested in God, but He had to conform to my specifications. Now I was willing to encounter Him on His own terms.
But perhaps this “encounter” was just the product of having lost so much blood in the midst of a NDE. However, I knew otherwise. Ten years earlier, while I was studying for my finals in my freshman year at UC Berkeley, I put my exhausted head down in my hands and closed my eyes. Some minutes later, when I lifted my head, it seemed that everything was different. I was filled with the same ecstatic love, joy and peace. I even loved myself, but I had no awareness of the presence of God.
As hard as I tried to hold on to this mysterious visitation, I couldn’t. I had been intensely interested in the occult - mind-over-matter. But the occult was clearly about learning techniques and rituals in order to plug-in. However, I had done absolutely nothing to bring about this experience! It came from nowhere, and it didn’t seem to lead anywhere. It just left me with a profound sense that there was something out there far greater than the occult, but I was clueless about what it was.
Four years later, I was on a train, traveling from the north – Nahariya to Tel Aviv. I was reading a story in the Jerusalem Post about a Californian who had an encounter with God. In response, he built a boat and brought his entire family to Israel. They had just arrived in the port town of Haifa that day, after a two year voyage. However, he had entered illegally and was being held in the Coast Guard area until a determination could be made about his entering Israel.
Meanwhile, passing through Haifa, I decided that I had to find out how he could be so certain that his God had called him to Israel to spread his Jesus drivel. Initially, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to see Mr. Harrison (I don’t remember his name.) because the Coast Guard area was off-limits to civilians. However, amazingly, I found the station-master, and he called the Coast Guard and got approval for my unusual request.
I spent the afternoon with Harrison on his boat, as his wife and five little blond-haired children walked the wharf. I asked him a series of question, mainly concerning how he could be sure about God and His will. However, he would merely answer me with Scripture. I complained, “You’re wasting time quoting Scripture. I don’t believe it, and therefore it’s meaningless to me,” but it seemed that that was all he was able to do.
After it got dark, I arose to leave. He asked if he could pray with me. I acquiesced. He had kindly spent hours fielding my critical questions. This was the least I could do. Afterwards, I walked off into Haifa’s night, not knowing where I’d spend the night, but I soon realized it didn’t matter. I was once again in ecstasy by the strange visitation. Each stranger’s face became an object of intense love, so much so that I had to lower my head, lest the passers-by would see my tears. Every flower had a message, every street a story to tell. Everything pulsated with life!
What had happened to me? Well, it seemed that it had something to do with my meeting Mr. Harrison. Perhaps his enthusiasm had gotten to me? However, never once did I connect this encounter with his prayer. I had thought that I was a truth-seeker, but my search boundaries were very confined.
Six years later, I was once again overtaken by the same experience, while my blood generously flowed, but this time there was one significant difference. I was left with no doubt about my Benefactor. I knew that it was about a God, who had been mysteriously wooing me for years, but I had not been aware of it.
Why did He wait so long to reveal Himself? Why does the fisherman allow his catch to tire itself before reeling it in? Perhaps I first had to exhaust every other possibility and to spend all of my reserves on false hopes? Perhaps only in a prostrate position would I accept what I had always regarded as abhorrent?
The chainsaw encounter alone didn’t bring me to a faith in Christ, but just an uncomfortable feeling that the One whom I had always detested, was involved. This threatened my Jewish identity. I had held Christianity in utter contempt. Too many Jews had been killed in the name of Jesus.
However, my bloody chainsaw encounter brought me to the point of crying out to my, as yet, unknown Benefactor: “I don’t care who You are. I just want to know the truth about You!” And I meant it! I knew that there was nothing more important than to find out His identity, whatever that identity might be.
I was convalescing in the hospital for four days. Meanwhile, the people who had rescued brought me books to read. They were very elementary, but they talked about an all-powerful God of love and forgiveness who intervened in our lives. The conviction that my Benefactor was Christ began to grow. I resisted this awareness, but I had made a vow. For the first time in my life, I was determined to know the truth, even if it would cost me my strongly held identity.
However, faith did not come easily. I was100% skeptic! While I would experience a joy in believing, I would then tell myself:
- This is ridiculous. How can I believe that somebody died on the cross, and magically, God loves me?
I needed more. I joined a home fellowship group where they were studying messianic prophecy. While I found some of the material convincing and even satisfying, the skeptic in me continued to say “no.”
I cannot say when exactly I came to faith. It was a slow and arduous process. The old leaven had to be burned away. God humbled me exceedingly so that I could receive His Word and blessings (1 Peter 5:6).
Now, 40 years later, I can say as David did:
- It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:71)
Never would I have believed that, one day, I would be ministering a Message that I had once despised.