I am releasing my first book on March 29th called, "Consecrated in the Chaos." I am excited to be able to share my journey in the past 10 years through the beatitudes. I wanted to post this month in the blog one of the stories I share in it. This was a moment that forever changed the way I viewed my life and walk with the Lord. I hope it encourages you.
“What blessing comes to you when gentleness lives in you! For you will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5 MSG
It was late November 1989, and the Berlin Wall had just come down November 9th. I was traveling all over Europe to proclaim the goodness of Jesus. I was on a boat traveling from Helsinki, Finland to St. Petersburg, Russia. I felt the Lord impressing on me to draw away with him. I excused myself from the group I was with and went on the top deck of the boat. It was an open deck on the top with some chairs and a lot of open space. I went to the front of the boat and leaned up against the rail. The air was cold and thick. The sun fought its way through the clouds and fog as to cause a beauty that I had only seen in photographs. I pulled out my Sony Walkman (a cassette player ha-ha), put my headphones on, and began to worship Him. After a few minutes, I began to sense the Lord pressing my heart. It was like He had something He wanted to tell me. It was a very sacred moment, and I knew the Lord was drawing me into a very secret place with Him. Tears began to run down my face as I worshipped, watched the water go by, and could sense the Lord was so close to me. After some time, I asked, “Lord, what is it? What is it, just tell me”? As a few minutes passed, I felt the Lord speak to me in my spirit, “I know you’ve given your “all” to me, but will you give me your life?” “Of course, Lord, you are everything to me, I would die for you. I give you my life, my all!” I wept as I could feel Jesus ministering to my spirit. It was like He was so happy that I had said yes, and He began to wash over and cleanse those places deep in my heart to strengthen my yes. I will never forget those moments as the thick cold air brushed my face through the light fog that rested on the water. It was such a sweet 15 or 20 minutes as I let go of my past and embraced my future in the Lord.
During those days in Europe, there were soldiers being shipped out and shipped in with lots of moving parts happening. On the boat that day, there was a group of armed soldiers from the Russian Army riding back to St. Petersburg. As I was in that precious moment with the Lord, a soldier approached me on the deck towards the front of the boat. I was still listening to music and talking to the Lord. I nodded to him as he walked up and said hello with a smile. He nodded back and motioned for me to take off my headphones. Now let me give you context of this moment. He was a German Soldier carrying a rifle with a handgun holstered on his side. He was very intentional in his mannerism and seemed bothered by something. It was just like I had seen in the movies. I was 16 years old! In a very thick accent, he spoke in his best English, “What are you listening too”. Europeans back then were very fascinated with American music because they did not have much access to it. I was listening to Christian rap music so I could not help but smile and just hand him my headphones and let him have a listen. I figured it would be a great conversation starter. I thought he might find humor through the weirdness of a white kid from Texas playing Christian Rap music to a soldier from Germany! He listened for a bit as he smiled and nodded. He kept listening until the song was over. Then I noticed a change in his eyes and a distant glare. His eyebrows contorted together as his jawbone became tight. I could tell he was biting his teeth together, and he suddenly seemed very irritated. He took off the headphones and handed them back to me and said firmly, "So are you one of those born-again people?". I laughed as I slowly replied "yes". I could tell that this really bothered him, even angered him. He began to ask me questions, interrogation style, not really expecting answers. He proceeded to declare he was an atheist who would never believe in God's existence. The longer he talked, the angrier he became. He began to aggressively point his finger at me saying, "There could never be a God that would allow the things I've seen happen in my life. If God really existed, then where is he in this hell. I could see the deep pain and hatred in his eyes. He spit on the ground as to say how disgusted he was to even be having this discussion. He suddenly looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Typical, you Americans know nothing of suffering. You believe in a God because you are weak and afraid to deal with life." Because Jesus had led this man right in front of me, as he was saying those words, with bold confidence, I asked, “Can I just share with you my story, what I’ve been through and what Jesus did in my life?” I did not know what his answer would be, but he answered, "Well I have never heard music like that before so why not".
I began to share with him how I was hurt as a boy and carried much anger and hate inside. I was only 16 at the time, and he had to have been in his 30’s, but still I told him how I had spent my most of my life medicating with drugs and relationships, trying to do anything to stop feeling the hurt. I shared how the year before I was about to commit suicide with my dad’s gun. I said, “God touched my heart man, I cried out for Jesus to take my life, to come into my heart. I told God that day I would follow Him no matter what from that night on.” I explained, “This was why I am in Russia: to share with other people what Jesus has done in my life” (Not the wisest thing to tell a German soldier at the time). As I was wrapping my words up, I was asking the Lord, "What do you want me to do next?" I love the way the Lord moves! I was so confident that the Lord was going to touch his heart through our story. I thought, “God is going to shine a light from heaven, and he is going to give his life to Jesus”. Little did I know I was the light! Well, believe it or not, he did not have quite the response I was looking for. As I finished, he got even more angry, and he began speaking German instead of English. Anytime somebody speaks English and then starts talking real fast in their own language, it is usually not a good sign. I could tell this was escalating fast without understanding a word of what he was spewing, so I stepped back a bit from the rail of the boat. As I did, he pushed me and began yelling, spitting, raging (mostly in German with a few explicit words in English). People began to gather around us, and I could see the other friends of his, soldiers. In only a minute’s time, a crowd had gathered. The soldiers were keeping people back so that now there was a circle around us of about 4 other soldiers. He began saying in English, "Prove to me. Prove to me your God is real, prove it'! He pushed me again. Holy Spirit came over me and reminded me of a conversation we had just had 5 minutes before this man came up. “I know you’ve given your all to me, but will you give me your life”? It took my breath away. I suddenly knew the Lord had orchestrated this moment.
Isn't Holy Spirit so kind and gracious? He was preparing me, filling me, for a moment in time, that everyone on that ferry would never forget. Ok, back to the story. As he kept pushing me and screaming, "Prove to me your God is real”, I realized, he was trying to get a response from me. I could tell he wanted to provoke me to anger for some reason. So, I dropped to my knees and just looked down to the deck very humbly. This made him even more furious. He was screaming, "Get up. Get up. I will kill you. Get off your knees. What are you doing? Get up. I will spill your blood all over this deck. Get up. Get up. You are weak". It seemed like the lower I humbled myself, the more angered He became. It was so strange as he was screaming. Certain words were sticking out to me. He kept saying, “Kill you”. “Spill your blood”. I found them strange choices that sparked me to think of Jesus and what he did for me on the cross. Then it happened, the compassion of Christ consumed me. I began to weep. I mean really weep from deep within. Real tears and snot freely flowing as compassion for this man overcame me. People had to be thinking I was crying in fear. How would they know any different? Then the Holy Spirit began to rise in my heart like a fire. I could not look down for another second. I looked up straight into his eyes, rose up straight on my knees, and spread my arms out like Jesus on the cross. I just stared at him with my arms spread, tears rolling down my face, as I began to smile with compassion for him. It is as if he knew I was not crying because I was afraid. As the screaming escalated to its highest point, he spit accusation, bitterness and rage as I simply waited for his pause. As he quieted for a moment after shouting and circling, I said the words that burned in my heart, "The blood I shed on this deck is nothing compared to the blood that Christ shed for you on the cross. Jesus truly does love you and He really is real. I am your proof. Look what he has done in me. Look at what he has done for you on this boat"! Then as I looked down again with the peace of Christ, I waited for his response.
There was silence that seemed like eternity. Suddenly, I could hear him whimpering and sniffing. He began crying: God was touching his heart! I sensed a slight hesitation and pause of reflection before he grabbed me and lifted me up abruptly. I have to say at this point I thought, “Well Jesus, it is happening I am going to die now. I did not know you meant give my life right now". I can laugh now, but at the time, I really thought this soldier was picking me up to shoot me or throw me over the boat. Then, in a way that only Jesus can grab a man’s heart; that rough, angry German soldier pulled me into his arms and hugged me as he kept repeating, "Thank you. Thank you. You don't understand. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you". The show was over and the people, who had gathered around us, began dispersing. The other soldiers could not figure out what was going on but did not want people to see weakness, so they moved people along back to their seats. The man once yelling and then hugging was obviously the other soldier’s superior because of the way they were watching over him. He was crying. I was crying. It was crazy. I was totally amazed at what had happened. I mean what an amazing God we serve. Here I was a recovering drug addict, barely a Christian for over a year, and having just surrendered my life to full time ministry, wrapped in the arms of an unbelieving German Soldier who had seen more war and violence than I could ever even imagine. God is so good, and His mercy never ends.
What I did not learn until later was that he had done this three other times to others who professed to be Christians. Every time he heard someone share about Jesus dying for him on the cross, he found it unbelievable. It made him angry! What man would be willing to die for someone they did not know? He was a soldier; he understood something about sacrifice, death, and honor. Every one of those other encounters before, he would provoke the men to fight back. Therefore (in his mind), proving there is no real change and no real God. By God's grace and our encounter, I was not another person professing love but harboring fear. He said the only proof to him that there could be a real God was if a real person today would willingly lay their life down just as the story had been told to him of Jesus. God used me that day as proof, on a ferry deck, of a living God. We talked for about 30 minutes as we leaned up against the rail. He let me pray for him that day. He did not ask Jesus into his heart, but as I left, he said, "I now believe that there is a God". That day, I was able to grasp what it was to be meek, to humble myself first before God and before man.
Today the gravity of this story means so much more. That was a defining moment in my life beginning a journey into my true identity. I am a child of King Jesus. A king that is the meekest, humblest, and gentlest man ever to walk the earth. The King of all Kings, fully God, fully man, gave up so much to come and suffer at the hands of men: the very same men he would come to save for all eternity. The true meaning of the word meek is not summed up in words that form a definition, but rather in the life of a God man who gave it all for you and I. The funny part of the story is, the soldier’s name was "Buster".