I grew up as a Catholic. I was taught to respect God and the church and I did. I went to Catholic schools and faithfully attended Mass as a boy. Many a time did I sit in church staring at that larger than life crucifix with Jesus hanging on it, not quite knowing what it was all about. The nuns told us that Jesus died to open the gates of heaven for us. That puzzled me: why were the gates of heaven closed in the first place? I just shrugged and accepted that there were many things about God that we weren’t supposed to know or attempt to delve into. Part of being pious was accepting without understanding those things the church categorized as a “mystery.”
I retained my respect for the church, but as I grew older I didn’t have much use for it. I stopped going to Mass and found “home” with my friends who liked to party and get high. Going to a Catholic High School there were these guys who were religious and would go on weekend retreats with the priests, but that was just not my thing. I had an aunt who was a nun and she suddenly started teaching the Bible (she got saved after being in the convent for thirty seven years.) My mother, who was always somewhat religious, now also became more interested in the Bible.
Mom and I would go to the same place of work together and while on the bus or subway she would hand me a tract. I read it but really didn’t understand what it was trying to say or what it wanted me to do. I prayed the little prayer at the end of the tract, but nothing changed. I wanted to be respectful to my mother, but in all honesty, this religious thing was just not for me. I didn’t see how it was relevant to my life. What did my mother and aunt want me to do?
Sometimes, my Mom would quietly come into my room at night when she thought I was asleep. She would softly lay her hand on my head and whisper, “Lord, take the veil of darkness off of Michael’s eyes.” I remember thinking to myself: I don’t know what this “veil of darkness” is, but hey, if it’s there, feel free to take it off.
That brings the story to December 31, 1976. I was 19 years old at the time. I had come home from working at my father’s deli. It was somewhere in the mid-afternoon. As was my habit, I lay on my bed with the headphones on, listening to my music. This is where things got unusual. I began to ask myself a series of questions. Now I have to say that the questions were about subjects I never bothered about before. I was not a “deep thinker,” I was someone who liked to listen to music and “veg.” I was not one who ever wondered about God or the “big” questions. But this day was different.
The first question I asked was: “I wonder where God is?” Notice, I did not ask if God even existed; I believed that He did, but I just became suddenly curious as to where He was. I thought: is God somewhere out in some galaxy far, far away? To my first question I got no answer. So I asked a second question: “I wonder if God knows what is going on down here on the earth?” I meant, is God aware of world events or is it all rather trivial to Him? Is He oblivious to the state of affairs in this world? To this second question I received no answer. So I asked a third question: “I wonder if God knows that I exist?” In other words, did God make me but somehow lose track of me amidst so many other people? To this question, once again, I got no answer. Then I asked my fourth question: “If God does know me, does He know where I am right now? Does He know that I am in my house at 638 East 43rd Street, Brooklyn, New York?” At that very moment, in an instant, I received an open vision of God. This was not something I conjured up; it was not something I thought would be nice to see or believe, it happened uninvited, unexpected, “out of the blue.” In this vision I saw God seated on a throne. I could not see His face, but I knew it was God. In His lap someone was sitting and He had His arms wrapped around the person. I looked closely to see who this person was, and to my utter amazement, I saw myself.
The immediate effect of seeing this transported me into an experience of love that I had never known before. I could not believe it. I was dumbfounded. I was loved, and I was loved by God Himself. I suddenly realized why godly people were as giving, as loving, and as selfless as they were: they knew this God of love and wanted to share the love that they knew. I felt at that moment like I wanted to run outside and grab people and tell them that God was real and that He loved them. I had never known this kind of love. The only way I could think of it at that moment was being enveloped in an ocean of love. I remember thinking to myself that the only real love I had ever known had come from my mother who I knew loved me dearly, but compared to the ocean of love that I was now in, even the wonderful love of my mother was like a drop of water.
This is where my wonderful experience took an unexpected and disheartening turn. Without an attempt on my part to analyze my situation, I suddenly saw myself in comparison to God. He was Love; I was anything but. I was selfish to the point of not caring about the one person who cared for me. I saw my calloused and cold heart toward my mother. I frequently stayed out all night partying with friends. My antics one time landed me in jail. One night I came home late after drinking all day. I went into my room to get a change of fresh clothes in order to meet up again with my friends at another “watering hole.” My mother entered my room and asked me where I was going. I told her I was going back out. She said, “Please Michael, stay home, just go to sleep, you’ve been out all day. Get some rest.” I said, “No, Ma, I have to go out, my friends will all be there. I want to go.” She begged me again, this time with tears in her eyes: “Please, Michael, please don’t go. Stay home.” I said, “Ma, I want to go out. You live your life the way you want to, so let me do the same.” I will never forget the anguish of my mother that night, the tears in her eyes and the pain on her face. But I didn’t care.
The awareness of my utter selfishness and callousness is what suddenly hit me in the moments after God revealed Himself to me. I said: “Lord, you are such a God of love. I am so other than You are. You are all about others; I am so wrapped up in me. You are not one to hurt others and I have been willing to hurt the one person who loves me. How can you have anything to do with me? The gulf between the two of us is too great.”
And then once again, seemingly “out of nowhere” these words came to me: “Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins.” I can only say that I was now once again astounded. This was almost too good to be true. I marveled at it. How great, how wise, how loving God was. He knew, even before I was born, that I would be a sinner in need of His forgiveness, and 2000 years ago He had already provided the means for me to be forgiven.
In a matter of perhaps ten minutes I went from being the most spiritually dull person that you can imagine to one who knew that God was real, He loved me, and that He had sent His Son Jesus into the world to die for my sins so I might be forgiven and reconciled to Him. No longer was I puzzled about why He had to hang on that cross. I knew He died on that cross, not just for the sins of the world, but for the very real sin of Michael Beck.
I remember getting up and leaving my room, wanting to tell my mother about what happened. She was asleep on the couch, so I picked up a book that was on a nearby table. It was a Christian book that my mother was reading. I started reading it and it all made perfect sense. It was all supremely relevant. I had eyes to see what was hidden to me before.
I went upstairs to the bathroom. I remember looking into the bathroom mirror at myself. I don’t think I was accustomed to looking at myself in the eyes. I normally must have looked at my hair or my skin. But this time, it seemed for the first time, I looked myself straight in the eyes and said to myself: “YOU are going to be alright!” I felt that so strongly. Why? Because I knew that I had a Father in heaven who loved me and would be there for me in the future.
I went downstairs and by this time my mother has woken up and was in the kitchen. She was washing dishes. I came and stood near the entrance to the door and didn’t say anything. My mother turned around and looked at me. I looked at her but could not speak. I tried, but the words would not come. My eyes filled up as I tried to get it out. Finally, with a burst of tears, I said, “Ma, I know.” I began to sob and my mother sobbed with me. Without me even telling her, she knew that God had visited me. He had answered her prayers and removed the veil of darkness from my eyes.
This month marks the 39th anniversary of my salvation. I have two major episodes connected to my salvation. The first happened on December 31, 1976. Then God confronted me as He did Paul on the road to Damascus and the scales fell off my eyes as to His reality and love for me. I understood that He sent His Son to die on the cross to reconcile me to Himself. I was given a heavenly vision and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened.
But as necessary and as wonderful as that experience was, it did not save me. It is quite possible to know the truth without walking in it. One can be disobedient to the heavenly vision. Faith without works is dead.
With this newfound knowledge packed into my back pocket I continued to live my own life the way I had always lived it. I continued to drink and drug and seek fulfillment in the things of this world. Though my eyes were opened to a heavenly calling, my heart was not sure I was ready for what obedience to this call would entail. I was too familiar and too comfortable with my independence. I liked being able to do what I wanted to do. Deep down there was an awareness that should I answer the call to surrender, things were going to change; I would not be so foot loose and fancy free any more. The idea of some wholesale rearrangement of my life did not appeal to me. Frankly, I knew what it was like to be into many things, but I had a hard time envisioning myself as a “Jesus freak.”
The reasons I had built up for holding out were various. They all though were rooted in fear. I firstly feared losing my “freedom.” Deep down I knew God would take that away. There was stuff I still wanted to do and experience and I knew that if God was in charge He could tell me, “No,” or tell me to wait. I really didn’t want to be a monk. And then there was my reputation. I hung out with a close group of friends that I knew would look at me cross-eyed if I suddenly came “out of the closet” as a Christian. If not to my face, I knew they would be talking behind my back. “Mike has really lost it.” “Yeah, he’s become some kind of religious nut-job.” Ugh! Of all things, I could not stand to lose their favor and friendship. I had spent years cultivating a place of acceptance and approval with them.
One of the main things that signaled my inclusion was the invitation to do drugs with a select crew. Drugs was our “sacrament.” To get high together was the way we bonded and had fellowship with each other. My friends were my “church.” If I fully gave my life to Christ I would become an “apostate.” I would be denouncing my best friends and communicating to them that what they were doing was wrong. I would be condemning those I loved and whose acceptance I had lived for. I stood a real chance of losing their favor and gaining their disapproval.
So for almost two years I was on the fence, knowing in my heart that the life I was living was not right in God’s sight, but hoping He was okay with me because, after all, I believed in Him and knew Him in a way that others didn’t. I was a bar-room philosopher. I was deep. I knew spiritual things. And then it happened. As suddenly as the Lord first revealed Himself to me in December of 1976, He confronted me once again in November of 1978.
I turned in for the night and was laying in my bed, about to fall asleep, when the Lord spoke to me, loud and clear: “You may think you know Me; you may think I am in your life, but if you will not stop doing the things you are doing, you will not have Me in your life, nor the future I have planned for you.” These words struck deep within my heart. I knew they were God’s ultimatum to me to get off the fence. I had made starts before to stop or cut back on my drinking, but it never lasted. God had had enough of my vacillation. I vowed that night in the dark of my room to stop my drinking and drug-taking. This seemed like a mountain to me because I had tried and failed in the past. But I said, “Lord, if You will help me, the next time I am offered, I will refuse.”
And then the time came. I was not someone who had any Christian friends. I had no church to go to except the Catholic church which I had long ago stopped going to. My only circle of friends was the group I had spent every weekend with for almost a decade. So there I was in a bar with my friends, drinking ginger ale, when my best friend tapped me on the shoulder. I knew what that tap meant. I shook my head no. He shrugged his shoulders and went off, only to come back in a short time with that silly smile and those cloudy eyes to ask: “What’s up, Mike?” I finally said it, what I had needed to say for so long: “Steve, I can’t do it anymore. I can’t keep living a double life. You know I’ve talked about God, but I’m not living it as long as I’m drinking and doing these drugs. I can’t do this anymore.” To my surprise he just said, “Hey, whatever you got to do, just do it.”
When I accepted God’s terms of surrender, when I was willing to put away those things which God told me were the hindrance to my relationship with Him, salvation burst upon my soul in all its glory and fullness. It was only then that I became born again. I was filled with a single desire to please Him that I never had before. All I wanted was to know Him, love Him, obey Him.
There is no real salvation without genuine repentance, which simply is full surrender to God. We cannot hold on to our old life and ways and sins and expect God to be in our lives. He is a holy God. He has no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, and if we are to have fellowship with Him, we cannot walk in darkness. I cannot begin to tell you the change that took place in my life when I finally stopped being a pretender. All I can say is this: doing what God told me to do in putting off the drinking and drugs were the fruits of repentance in my life. Without this repentance, God would not have been in my life and I would not have known the future He had in store for me.
I have discovered that life with God is so much better than life without Him. I no longer seek my happiness in things. I am happy in Jesus, all the day long. I no longer fear the loss of my “freedom.” I am delighted to be His servant. I no longer live for the acceptance or approval of any man. If His smile is over me, it is well with my soul. All my fears of what life in God would entail are long evaporated. The devil is a liar. Jesus came to give me life, and that more abundantly. I am and have been living the good life for 39 years now. And the best is yet to come.