New York City Reflection #5: The Greatest Home Run of My Life

I didn’t hit this home run. It’s a home run that happened to me. That’s sounds strange, except that we are talking metaphorically here. I am using a home run metaphor, because it happened during our recent trip to New York, where Robin and I attended a most unusual baseball tournament. If you haven’t read my other posts, you can see them in order here. I am also using the home run metaphor to emphasize the impact that one person’s relatively small action had on my life. One person’s initiative. One person’s courage. One person’s faith. The result: the complete transformation of my life from a panic-stricken, depressed and aimless youth to an overwhelming grateful husband and father who has lived a Great Adventure.

If you read my first reflection from our trip, entitled, “Crying Over Breakfast”, you know how our trip to New York was the second time in forty years of my being there. The first time was when my panic attacks began as I was eating breakfast in Manhattan. It was these panic attacks that were the impetus of my asking Yeshua into my life a few months later. I wept as I was struck by how much God has done for me through all these years. But it’s possible that I was also anticipating a very special meeting that was due to occur a few days later just before we would be heading home.

For the past forty years I have had the privilege of telling my story to people all over Canada and other parts of the world. Each time I explain how I met Jon, a friend of a friend. He was visiting Montreal from California, and gave me a remarkably clear and effective presentation of the trustworthiness of the Bible, the prophecies in the Old Testament that pointed to Yeshua (Jesus), and the process of being restored to a right relationship with God through him. Jon led me in a prayer asking God to forgive my sins and asking Yeshua to take over my life. I knew at the time something special was going on, but I didn’t know how special. I became a brand new person! I give God all the credit, but Jon was his chosen instrument that day. And did he ever hit it out of the park!

Jon remained in town for only a short time afterwards. Over the next couple of years, we talked on the phone a bit and exchanged a few letters, but never got to see each other again…until a couple of weeks ago in Brooklyn. Some time ago Jon and his family moved to the area. So knowing he was in the vicinity I contacted him and we sat down together for the first time in forty years.

It was surreal. It was so special to see him and to meet his wife after all this time as well to have my wife, Robin, finally meet this up-until-now mythic person. Over dinner we got caught up as much as we could in one meeting, Jon wanting to know as much detail of our lives as possible. And if you know some of how God’s grace has worked in and through my family, perhaps you could relate to how Jon must have felt.

Jon & Ellen

Having dinner with Jon & Ellen just before the final game at the World Baseball Qualifier, Coney Island, Brooklyn

There is an interesting true story told at the end of the baseball movie, “Moneyball,” which doesn’t exactly parallel what Jon did forty years ago, but illustrates how as we are true to what God calls us to do, we may not always be aware of its impact. Keep on swinging! You  never know when you will hit the Big One.

Redeemed! Reflections on a personal story

Alan Gilman in 1976

Alan Gilman in 1976

Tomorrow will be forty years since the most extraordinary day of my life! When I share my story of coming to know God through Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, they often respond with all sorts of questions: How did your family react?; How did this change your life?; What does this mean to you as a Jewish person?; and so on. Yet some years ago I was asked a particular question I had never been asked before: “How did it work?”

My Background

First, some background: As a child and teenager, I suffered quite a bit from anxiety and depression, including an emotional breakdown at age 11 and panic attacks at 18. I grew up in a home full of discord and strife. My parents separated when I was 8 years old, reconciled a year later only to split up permanently when I was 14. I lived with my mother until I went away to school at age 20, my three older brothers having moved away. I saw my father rarely through the years.

Transformation

Just before my 19th birthday, I met a young Jewish man – a friend of a friend – who demonstrated from the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament) that Yeshua was the Messiah.* He explained to me the biblical concepts of sin and forgiveness. He said that if I asked God to forgive me and believed that Yeshua died for my sins and rose from the dead, I would be “happy for the rest of my life and live forever in heaven.” While there was so much of what this young man said that day that was true, I eventually learned that his guaranty of constant happiness was inaccurate – inaccurate, but not entirely untrue. If happiness means a life completely devoid of grief, struggles and disappointments, then he was wrong. But if it means a basic sense of well-being in the midst of the ups and downs of everyday life, then he was absolutely correct.

My panic attacks stopped immediately and for the next few months I was on an emotional high of a nature that I had never experienced before. That high didn’t continue, however, which at first was somewhat of a crisis. But it would not be long before I would come to understand the depth of what God had done for me. While my assumptions regarding being happy forever (or at least in this life) would not be realized, the change that God caused in me has been no less profound. Believing in Yeshua has completely changed me. From my emotional state to my outlook on life to my sense of worth to my values and goals, I have been transformed. While I may still struggle some with the scars of my first nineteen years of life, I have experienced a most wonderful transformation through my encounter with the reality of the God of Israel through the Messiah.

How Did It Work?

But years later, when asked, “How did it work?”, I didn’t know what to say. That I had truly experienced the transforming power of God was clear to me, but as to exactly what it was that God did to me to cause that change, I couldn’t say. God brought about the change, but that explains who changed me, not what he did to change me. The person who asked the question surmised that it had to do with my coming to an understanding of the meaning of life. They thought that my getting a handle on what life was really all about stabilized me

There is truth in this, but that too, doesn’t really answer the question, “How does it work?” My changed viewpoint has had a great positive effect on me. But is that what made the difference? And even if it did, what caused my viewpoint to so radically change? Was it my own willingness to adopt a new way of thinking that transformed me? I don’t think so. Is there even an adequate answer to this question? It wouldn’t bother me if there wasn’t. That God’s reality is at work in my life is good enough for me. Yet after giving this much thought, I do think there is more that can be said about how the transforming power of God works.

The most obvious aspect of my transformation was psychological. The panic attacks stopped. My outlook on life radically changed. I had been a very self-centered person, and while I do not claim to have attained selflessness, my world was no longer just about me anymore. Similarly, issues of morality had meant little to me, but once the Messiah came into my life, I began to develop a strong sense of right and wrong. Also, life in general which previously had no meaning now had purpose. My Jewish identity had been important to me, but without much substance. Once I came to know the reality of the God of Israel, I began to see myself as part of his eternal plan that was intimately rooted in my forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A lot changed, but none of this explains exactly what it was that God did to me that day.

The Answer: Redemption

The best way to explain it is through the biblical concept of redemption. Redemption is the act of buying back a person sold into slavery or the restoration of property lost due to extreme poverty. According to the Torah (the five books of Moses), when this occurred, it was the obligation of a near relative to redeem the person or property (see Vayikra / Leviticus 25 & 27 and Bemidbar / Numbers 35).

Redemption in the Bible

Redemption is a reoccurring theme in the Bible. Jacob refers to God’s redemption in his life (Bereshit / Genesis 48:16). The deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt is called redemption (Shemot / Exodus 6:6; 15:13). God as the Redeemer of Israel is found several times in the prophets (Isaiah 41:14; 43:1; 43:14; 52:3; Jeremiah 50:34; Micah 4:10; etc.). The Book of Ruth is a beautiful story of redemption. In the Psalms we have references to God as redeemer of both Israel as a nation (Psalms 74:2; 77:15; 78:35. etc.) and for individuals (Psalms 19:14; 69:18; 103:4, etc.).

Redemption is the act of rescuing a person or persons from a most dire situation and restoring them to a place of freedom. This is what happened to me.

Rescued From Oppression

I had been in an oppressive state which included several components. The most basic was the spiritual one in that I had been alienated from God. But it also included a relational component in that my home life was extremely dysfunctional and my friendships were based on selfishness. It had an economic component as well in that the only parent in my life was no longer able to provide for our needs. It had an intellectual component in that I had no direction for my education. I also had a sub-standard work ethic, since I thought life was simply about comfort and pleasure.

When I encountered God that day, he redeemed me. By Yeshua’s giving his life as the ransom for my sins, God rescued me from my oppression, set me in right relationship with himself and began to direct me in the quality of life he desires for us all. It was his redemption that significantly alleviated my extreme anxiety. It was not that my perspective on life resulted in a psychological adjustment. Rather I experienced a psychological adjustment due to God’s transforming power of redemption.

Not long after asking Yeshua into my life, I remarked to myself that things looked different. While my physical surroundings hadn’t really changed, it was as if the realm in which I found myself had. The fact is it did. As expressed in these words from the New Covenant (New Testament) writings:

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14).

God’s redemption of the people of Israel in Egypt anticipated an even greater redemption through the Messiah, which is now available to all. It is not just a new frame of mind or a deeper commitment to a religious lifestyle, but a life-changing encounter with the God of Israel.

* If you are interested in seeing a list of Old Testament prophecies that are fulfilled by Yeshua (Jesus), go here:

http://www.alangilman.ca/content/messianicprophecies.html