I wanted to write about what God has taught me, but I remembered that I did that 5 years ago when I turned 20 “in the Lord.” I went back and read that blog post and realized that I don’t have anything to change.
But I did leave out something significant.
5 years ago I didn’t have the guts to share something very private about myself. But today, with God’s help, I can do it. And I think it is important because it could help others from suffering more than they need to.
So in honor of the 25th anniversary of Jesus saving me, I give you what I wrote 5 years ago, plus a very private addition that is frightening for me to admit.
Here’s what I wrote 5 years ago, and it’s still true today. Afterwards comes the new part.
Dear friends and family,
Today is my birthday. Not my physical birthday – that’s in June. Today’s birthday is much more significant. Exactly 20 years ago on this date, September 25, 1993, God did the miraculous – He gave me a rebirth.
I wasn’t down-and-out when this happened. I wasn’t at a low point in my life. Quite the contrary! I was a Junior in college with great grades. I was in the Honors program. I was in the Student Senate. I enjoyed the comforts of the world: the approval of my peers, financial stability, and the pleasures of underage drinking and premarital relationships.
This was the highest point of my life. And it was at this time that a Freshman in my dorm challenged me with the claims of a man named Jesus Christ.
As a Jew, I didn’t even like to hear the name Jesus Christ. The name itself offended me. You have to understand that as a Jew, I was taught that Jews DO NOT believe in Jesus – end of story. To believe in Jesus is to turn your back on your family and on all the martyrs at Auschwitz.
So to help this Freshman shed his fairy-tale belief in Jesus, I began reading the Book of Matthew in order to disprove it. I expected to find anti-Semitism. I expected the stuff that inspired Hitler. I found neither.
I found Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, and it literally blew me away. I had so many questions. Is the Bible reliable? Was it changed hundreds of years after it was written? Can I trust it? Why don’t other Jews see it? Why do people who call themselves Christian do such horrible things?
I asked everyone I knew what they thought of Jesus. I hungered for more knowledge. My friend set me up with a college chaplain who was strong in defending the faith and gave me good reasons to believe the Bible and patiently answered all my questions. A few days later, on September 25, 1993, I took time to read through the Book of John. John and Matthew taught me that because of our sins, we all deserve Hell. Jesus said that looking with lust is the same thing as adultery, and hating is the same thing as murder. I thought I was a success, something special, but the Bible taught me that I was a sinner deserving the Lake of Fire. The Bible said that we are all condemned, and it even explained why. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
This was me. I loved darkness. I loved my drinking. I loved getting girls into bed. I loved pornography and buying worldly trinkets. I loved darkness. I certainly didn’t love God because my lifestyle showed otherwise.
But then I got to chapter 11 when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
And then it hit me… God offers us mercy. He offers us “life” when we deserve Hell. And I had to pause when Jesus ended the verse with “Do you believe this?” It was as if God were saying, “Mark, do YOU believe this?” And you know what? I did. I believed it. On September 25, 1993, I agreed with God that I’m a sinner and I agreed that I had to turn 180 degrees away from it. That is what repentance is all about. Jesus warned, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
On September 25, 1993, I turned from my sin (repentance), and trusted (believed) that Jesus is God, that He came to earth in the form of a man, never sinned, yet died on a cross to pay the penalty for my sins. And He rose from the dead!
I was so thankful to God for giving me mercy and so thankful to Jesus for providing that mercy. If Jesus had not planned from the foundation of the world to come down to live a perfect life and sacrifice Himself on the cross and raise Himself from the dead, then mercy would not be possible. How could I not be drawn to so kind a God?!
The Word of God promises, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
The Scriptures say, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I literally died with Christ and was born a second-time as a new creation! That’s why today is my birthday. I was born again. Jesus warned, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
As evidence of a new birth, God gave me a new heart with new desires! I now desired to know God more and walk with Him more closely. I had an insatiable appetite to read God’s Word!
So here we are, 20 years later. I’m 40 years old, so even my children can do the math to realize that Jesus has been leading me for half of my life.
I remember being a baby Christian, so new at following Jesus. I remember those early days. And I remember looking up to my Pastor, the College Chaplain who helped me, and other “experienced and intellectual” Christians who had been following Jesus for years and years. Would I become like them someday? Some of them can read the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek! Would I be able to do that some day? Some of them understand many of the meatier issues of Theology, and have studied some of the greatest minds that God has raised up over the years. Would I be like that someday?
Well, it’s been 20 years, and I can say that I have done a lot of studying as a Christian. I have read and prayerfully meditated on difficult moral, ethical, and Theological topics. I have studied, understood, and dismantled false religions and competing worldviews. All things that I wondered if I’d be able to do when I was a new follower of Jesus.
But you know what? I think that perhaps the most life-changing lesson the Holy Spirit has been teaching me is not the scholarly book-knowledge, as helpful as it is to have that. But much more vital are the very simple issues of God.
The Jewish prophet Micah wrote, “[God] has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
After 20 years, do I show justice to everyone? Am I kind to everyone? Do I walk with humility with God? Those are much simpler to understand than translating the Scriptures from the original languages, but MUCH HARDER to follow.
Jesus Himself said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
After 20 years, do I love people the way that Jesus did? Would I be willing to lay my life down for another? This is so simple to understand, but so hard to live out!
20 years later, I’m only beginning to realize that loving God and loving others is a life-time pursuit. But there is no more worthy goal than to be an imitator of Jesus Himself! 10 out of 10 people die. When it is my turn, sin will finally be removed from me for good, and I’ll be in the stunning presence of God.
20 years later, and I’ve learned that God did not give me a new birth because I was smarter than other people, or more talented, or more sophisticated, or more of anything that I have done. God rescued me because He enjoys showing mercy. God enjoys giving grace, undeserved favor.
On September 25, 1993, God rescued me from the judgment that we all deserve because of our sins. I pray He will rescue you as well. You can be rescued because Jesus Christ died on the cross to die like a murderer even though He was not a murderer. He never sinned once, but He took the payment for our sins. We sinned. Jesus paid the penalty. And He offers you forgiveness if you repent of your sins, stop seeing yourself as a good person, trust in Jesus completely to forgive you, and follow Him all your days.
If you have not repented of your sins and believed the gospel, I beg you to do it today. I’d love to celebrate your new birthday with you.
joyfully in Christ,
P.S. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Thanks for sharing my 20th birthday! You know, on physical birthdays, we celebrate the people. But on my “spiritual” birthday, it’s not about me. It’s not me I want anyone to celebrate over. It’s all about Jesus! What a kind and merciful God I serve. And on this day and every day, I give Him all praise and honor. I hope you will too.
P.P.S. My story of how God saved me is available as a full-color booklet entitled A Jew and His God.
If you would like to read it, or see what it looks like, or watch a video of me sharing my story, it’s available at: http://luke-15.org/a-jew-and-his-god/.
I’d also be happy to mail out copies for free to anyone who wants them.
Just contact me and let me know.
The preceding was from: http://Luke-15.org/on-being-a-christian-20-years/.
So what was I hiding 5 years ago? It’s hard for me to type it. I’ve been hiding it for over 3 decades. I have an illness – a mental illness. Specifically I have a Panic Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
What is a Panic Disorder? Consider this: you ever walk into a busy street thinking that you looked both ways, but then a car zooms by inches from you? Immediately your body gets a jolt of adrenaline. Your heart beats quickly and powerfully. You immediately start sweating. You feel nausea, and you might even throw up. Even if it’s a cold day, you feel a rush of heat over your body. Your personality changes – nothing seems funny, you become overwhelmed by any stimuli, and you have an unreasonable urge to either run away or fight.
These symptoms, horrifying as they are, are very helpful when you’re about to be run over, or if you’re being chased by a bear, or if your kid is wandering into traffic. A Panic Disorder is when you experience these symptoms for no reason at all. Something in your brain isn’t working right, and it hits the “you just walked into traffic” button when you haven’t walked into traffic. That’s what makes it a disorder.
Once you experience these “Panic Attacks,” something truly horrifying happens. You start to become afraid of having another Panic Attack. You literally have fear of fear.
I’ve had well-meaning friends ask me what I’m afraid of. And the answer is: nothing. I’m not afraid of running out of money, or of losing a child, or of losing a career, or getting Cancer. I’m literally afraid of having fear. Sometimes people tell me to stop being afraid and just relax. I’ve heard it said that telling someone with a Panic Disorder to relax is like telling someone with Asthma to breathe. I’d love to relax! But it’s not anything tangible that I’m afraid of. That’s what makes it a disorder. Sound irrational? Well, that’s because it is. But it’s something I’ve lived with since I was approximately 10-years-old.
As for ADHD, if you’re reading this blog, or know much about what I do, you might be attracted to my ministry work because of my ADHD. Many people with ADHD are very effective at multi-tasking, and can come up with “big picture” ideas. I’ve discovered that I can see things creatively, differently, uniquely. I’m always thinking of a bevy of ideas at once. Look at my computer screen and you’ll see that I literally have a dozen tabs open in my web browser! And that’s helped me succeed. The downside is that my brain seems to never shut off. And at 45-years-old, my brain and my body are getting exhausted. I’d love so much to be able to slow down my mind, close a number of the tabs that are open, and concentrate on one thing. That would be wonderful!
Before I became a Christian, I was embarrassed by my panic attacks because I didn’t want to be different. And I certainly didn’t want to have a medical problem defining me.
After I became a Christian, I was tormented by my panic attacks because I believed they meant I didn’t have enough faith. Or maybe they were due to sin in my life. I would spend hours confessing sin to God, and asking God to reveal more sin for me to confess. When I was a new believer, I called people from my childhood to apologize for wrongs I had committed years before.
After 5, 10, 15 years of doing this, I concluded that this might not be solely a spiritual problem.
So I did what many Christians hide from others. I sought medical help. And my life changed for the better.
I began taking Effexor daily, along with a slow-release version of Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug. For my ADHD, I took Strattera.
These drugs didn’t take away all my anxiety, nor turn me into a “zombie,” as I’ve heard people say about these medications. They helped me be able to push away the anxiety when it came for no reason. They helped me expand my world – to travel places like New York, and Canada, and Florida, and China. They helped me be a better husband and daddy, because I became more reliable, and less afraid of being afraid.
That was until October of 2017. Last year it was suggested to me by a Therapist that I might not have an Anxiety Disorder, but rather be Bi-Polar. After all, the symptoms are very similar.
Agreeing to this prognosis, I began changing my medications to those more appropriate for someone who is Bi-Polar. And then in November 2017, a Panic Attack hit me. And it was a strong one like I hadn’t experienced in more than 10 years. This one lasted for over 2 hours. And I thought that was odd because it had been so long since I had one that bad.
And then it happened again. And again. And when I wasn’t having Panic Attacks, I was hyper-vigilant expecting one to come at any time.
By late January of 2018, I got to the point where I was having Panic Attacks multiple times per day. I became so horrified by this that for a whole week I was terrified to leave my home. My wife asked me to please walk to the mailbox, but that was too frightening for me. My Panic Disorder turned to Agoraphobia. And Agoraphobia lead to Clinical Depression.
How can one not get Depressed when one is experiencing so many Panic Attacks?
Many people say, “Oh, I feel Depressed,” but what they often mean is, “I feel discouraged.” Clinical Depression is discouragement run amok. It’s when you don’t care about anything. It’s when you just want to lay in bed, in the dark, and close your eyes, and never open them again. I became Suicidal, actually believing the lie that my wife and kids would be better off without me. That’s the cruelty of Mental Illness – it makes you see reality imprecisely.
My course of action was to voluntarily check myself into a Psychiatric Hospital. And I thank God for that! Within a day, the Staff there concluded that I was not Bi-Polar and began changing my medications back to those appropriate for a Panic Disorder. And I saw positive results nearly immediately.
And by God’s grace I’ve been getting better and better since.
I know how many people feel about psychiatric medications, and I suspect that I’ll receive disapproval by some. Perhaps one group will scorn my medical decisions internally, not telling me, but treating me differently, harshly, with condemnation, after learning about this. Perhaps others will courageously, but inappropriately, let me know of their dissatisfaction. I don’t want either of those.
So why am I writing this publicly? Because in every single case when I’ve dared open up and tell someone about my Mental Illness, in every single case, the person has confided in me that someone close to them, or even the person themselves, struggles with a similar case of Mental Illness. Sometimes Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or even Schizophrenia.
I’ve had godly men and women tell me with a whisper that they are on medications as well for their Mental Illness. I’ve had them tell me to promise to not let anyone in their Church know, because they knew they’d be ostracized. I’ve learned that there is a secret sub-culture in the Church struggling with Mental Illness, and so many of them suffer alone because it’s not acceptable to be Mentally Ill. My friends, this should never be!
And the stakes are higher than we might think! You see, a human being can only suffer for so long with Mental Illness before he or she seeks relief. None of us are strong enough to toughen our way through it. If we don’t seek trained medical help, then we will self-medicate, and that’s destructive. Popular damaging examples of self-medication include alcohol, addictions like sexual behavior, opioids, or even suicide.
Someone has to say something to get rid of the stigma of Mental Illness in the Church. The Bride of Jesus Christ should be the most welcoming place for those of us whose brains are a bit different than other peoples’.
And that’s one of the things I’ve learned after 25 years of being a Christian. I’ve learned that though some might shun me for being outspoken about Mental Illness, I just don’t have the time nor energy to be bullied by the power of unrealistic expectations. I’m too tired to fight off the condemnation from humans anymore. I’m much more concerned for those who are suffering in silence, for those who are in danger of self-medicating, or worse, have begun.
If you are suffering with Mental Illness, please, I beg you, seek professional help. You don’t need to be ashamed.
After 25 years of being a Christian I’m beginning to learn that it’s okay to say, as my Pastor often reminds my congregation, that “I’m a mess, you’re a mess, we’re all a mess.” And that makes Jesus all the more sweeter. Because He’s the only truly healthy One.
If you’ve read this far, it might because you’re struggling similarly to me. You can hide it and fake a Sunday-Morning-Expected-Smile. Or you can be real and allow Jesus to help you through the many professionals He’s generously placed around us.
Please pray for me. I have a lot of good days, but I also have bad days too.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).