A Steep Learning Curve
by David Hoyt
Every few days I was reading through a New Testament book. The Gospels, Acts, or Revelation took me longer, but Kent encouraged me to stay with it, telling me that this overview would help me gain an important foundation. The Bible was teaching me about God, his plan for humankind and how he worked in human history. I was excited to be learning, and a picture of God’s heart and intended good-plan for all people was becoming clearer.
“Not everyone has a dramatic encounter with God, David,” Kent reminded. “But every person who claims to be a follower of Jesus should have an inner witness of the Holy Spirit. This witness lets them know Jesus is the true way to the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit also provides the power to help us live as disciples.” He continued, “Your experiences were probably given to help you make a clean break with Krishna worship and your past. It was so you would be completely sure that you’d made the right decision. Saul became the disciple Paul through a dramatic encounter with Jesus while he was out hunting down Christians. God knows exactly how to get our attention and reach our minds and hearts with his truth.” I nodded in silent agreement.
Kent was a student pastor at a small church in Byron, California – some forty-five minutes north of Mill Valley. Attending Sunday worship was a cultural shock for me and probably for some of the congregation, as I was not your typical visitor. I stood out like a hamburger at a vegetarian dinner with my street mannerisms, tattoos, and eastern religion appearance. We used song books in worship, and some of the old hymns dragged on with five verses! The upside was that you had another shot at catching the melody each time the song repeated. The entire package was new.
Kent looked pastoral in his suit and tie and was a good preacher. I just hoped he wouldn’t take me to a thrift store and urge me to wear this ‘system’ clothing. The bright side of attending church was that I continued to learn from the Bible, and the people were friendly and glad I’d become a follower of Jesus Christ. Most of the time it was obvious they didn’t know what to say. I felt the same awkwardness and tried to avoid too much conversation. The smiles and warm hand-shakes were enough for now. As mismatched as I was among these rural folk, this was where I started attending worship as a follower of Jesus Christ.
My first water baptism took place at this small little church. This was a positive step that solidified my understanding of dying to my old life and being raised to new life in Jesus Christ. Before the afternoon baptism, Pastor Kent explained, “The work Jesus did by dying on the cross, made a way for us to come to God the Father and be forgiven. Jesus was the Savior and mediator between God and Man. When God raised Jesus from the dead –Satan was conquered. This was the miracle that opened the door for anyone who would believe – to begin a new life. Jesus was the strong one – the Son of God, the one appointed to reveal God’s fullness.”
Kent explained further, “Jesus was baptized as an example, and taught his disciples to baptize all who believed, ‘In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’. Baptism is an outward sign of the inward work of God in our lives. It is a picture of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. When we are immersed in the waters of baptism we identify with Jesus’ death for our sin and the sins of all who will believe. This visual image reminds us of God’s call on our lives to follow Jesus and die to our old habits of sin. Arising from the waters of baptism is a picture of God’s power that raised Jesus from the dead. This is what happens to each of you who genuinely believe and continue to follow Jesus Christ – you will experience God’s power helping you by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. Your job is to open your hearts to God and obey the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the instruction God has provided in the Bible.”
The baptism service followed this instruction. It was exciting to see several adults, some teens and other younger elementary age students each making this commitment to follow in Jesus’ steps. Following Jesus in baptism was one more decisive step, and I sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit as I came up out of the waters of baptism. This mysterious working of God flowing into my life was beyond my understanding. All I could do was be in awe – that God who created the universe and everything in the world –was capable of and interested in visiting individuals who were seeking him.
It was evident; the dark side of my old life was on the run! Years of being bounced around in youth and adult correctional institutions and a long search for truth in esoteric and eastern religions had culminated in a major break-through. But who would have guessed I would have an encounter with Jesus Christ in a Radha Krishna Hindu Temple in San Francisco?
Reconnecting with Timothy Wu
I ran into Timothy once after leaving the temple. He was pastor of a Chinese church in San Francisco and finishing up his studies at Seminary. He was the guy who led the second Bible study held at the Radha Krishna Temple, a seminary buddy of Kent’s. His theme for that Bible study had contrasted God’s teaching and those that came from ‘counterfeit evil spirits’ who act religious. He spoke of pagan religions - their characteristics and how to identify them. Timothy’s brazen boldness in what he taught led to an intense confrontation immediately following that study. As I rifled questions at him, he responded and challenged me, “Call out to God directly, and ask him if Jesus is the true Son of God. I believe God is going to take you out of this temple in the weeks to come and you’re going to come to know the True and Living God!” These and many other things he said were unusual and troubling words to hear – but they were the final catalyst that spiraled me into intense prayer for ‘the truth.’
Timothy had jet-black short straight hair and slanted strong eyes and was matter-of-fact when speaking. He was a young pastor on an important mission and exuded this calling. On a chance encounter, he spotted me in the Presidio District of San Francisco and ran across the street with a warm smile and gave me a hug. Timothy was elated that God had revealed Jesus Christ to me. He said he’d heard from Kent what had happened and knew I was living on seminary grounds – growing in the faith.
Curious about his use of prophetic words about me being ‘taken out of the temple in several weeks’ – I asked him about this. Timothy smiled saying, “The words I found myself saying surprised me. I knew the Holy Spirit must have been using me to speak ‘words of wisdom, or knowledge’ which are gifts of the Spirit mentioned in I Corinthians 12:7-11 of the Bible.” In an almost embarrassed manner he added, “When you posed the question that evening, 'How could a loving and righteous God turn away from and reject people from all the religions of the world except Christians?,'
I didn’t have an adequate answer. The explanation that came out of my mouth was wisdom beyond my ability which had to have come from the Holy Spirit! I thought about this and the prophetic words I’d spoken afterwards – knowing this was the first time God had used me in this way. I wondered about our whole dialogue exchange that evening. Had I been too pushy and direct? So I prayed God would use what came from him for his glory and continued praying for you. ”
I thanked Timothy for being open to the Holy Spirit, speaking the truth and praying for me. Timothy said a short prayer and assured me of his ongoing prayers for my new life in Christ. As was Timothy’s manner he said, “Got to go” and disappeared across the street.
A Questionable Idea
One day Kent and I came up with a plan to get me working and provide extra income for his family, and we decided on a ‘handy-man service.’ We ran an ad in the local newspaper and waited for the phone to ring. Sure enough we landed a few jobs but soon found out we needed a variety of tools along with the personal skill-set to accomplish most of this work.
One of our early jobs stands out as a memorable fiasco! A home owner called saying they needed a number of their doors shortened to accommodate a higher pile carpet they’d just installed. Sounded simple, a little shaving, power sanding and we’d have it done. But when we got to the home the doors required a saw cut of ¼ to ½ inch depending on the door. “Ok”, Kent said, “We can do this.” We’d bought a new blade for his older circular saw and started the job. From the very first door we encountered problems getting the cuts right – but kept at it. As things turned out we cut a little too much off of several doors, but way too much off the front door which was an expensive decorative heavy raised panel hardwood door.
As we stood there – jaws hanging open in horror, seeing our mistake – the wife of the family pulled in the driveway. Walking up the front steps she immediately saw the problem. I can still see her closing the front door and bending down to see the size of the gap. It was about 1 ½ inches higher than it should have been. Instantly she blurted out, “You’ve cut the door too short! Bending down again she looked at the large gap and said, “Lizards, chip-monks, spiders and mice can come right in!”
Kent and I were flush-red with embarrassment and speechless – until Kent blurted out “We’ll make things right and pay for a new door.” There went our wages on that job! After a few more sketchy outings we decided we’d try house painting and became good at it over time. The painting trade would become a viable vocation which supported us alongside ministry for many years to come.
A Best Buddy & Satan’s Den
Thinking about my closest friend, Tom, from Federal prison days prompted me to call his family to see if I could locate him. I wanted to share my encounter with Jesus Christ. Sure enough, he was out of prison and his family gave me his phone number. Tom and I had first met on a correctional bus from southern California to Lompoc Federal Penitentiary. We’d been close for several years until my parole. He and I and a handful of others had made a pact in prison to seek for truth and God. In this group we were never hassled on the yard, because two who joined our group had formerly been leader gang-bangers and drug dealers at Lompoc. Both were friends of Tom on the streets. John was an outrageously bold white guy who somehow came to control the drug traffic at Lompoc. His buddy Mike was a slender Italian Catholic who wielded equal clout in prison. Both had all kinds of connections with gang-banger buddies who stood firmly behind them – since they were able to smuggle in a steady quantity of street drugs. It was providential when they decided to join us, because they were feared and respected. In prison our mis-matched band of ‘seekers’ dropped out of the loop of gang and drug activity and sought to keep the dream alive of finding truth, God, and a way out of ever being locked up again.
I’d connected with Tom by phone several times and made plans to see him when I was in southern California. The drive down to Orange County brought back some old memories, good and bad. Tom had a job as a hair stylist which he’d done in prison, and was living in a canyon area with John and Mike, his long-time buddies from Lompoc. There was nothing legal parole-wise about this trio living together. As I entered the expansive home, it was obvious they were into illegal drug distribution big-time. Lots of drugs were in plain sight as well as weapons. Tom wasn’t going straight! I suspected this might be the case from several things he’s said by phone. It was obvious they’d all slipped back into their old habits.
If there was a police or Narc bust – I’d go down for just being there. I wasn’t sure what to do. Having made the long trip south from San Fran for the purpose of sharing with Tom how I’d received Jesus Christ, I decided to see how things went. The response to my testimony about my encounter with Jesus Christ over a lunch meal was not favorable. It was frustrating, but I figured that it was probably because they were noticeably high on something. I knew each of them had experienced contact with God or Satan when high on acid and considered themselves spiritually activated.
When the subject came up again I took my stand, “I think ‘acid’ is a counterfeit for direct contact with a holy God. Pure contact with God is just that, and it’s possible when we ask God to reveal himself through His Son Jesus Christ. There’s no need for any substance. I remember when I’d drop acid, feeling like I was entering eternity, seeing incredible spiritual things, or that I was an ancient seer, a god, or part of god. I also recall other ‘trips’ when the forces of darkness were strong and I was terrified by the evil I was seeing!
Getting high on acid or buttons is like a mirage that fades when the drug leaves our system. I know we’ve each felt at one with nature, the ocean, the wind, the sky or moon, or have had some mystical or sensual experience. But the real test of the validity of this experience happens when we come down. Has anything in our life changed? Are our core values different? Are we able to stand up to temptation with God’s help? Are we still trapped by our same old sins?
A psychedelic high offers an illusion of making spiritual progress – but lasting changes in our daily life and heart are not present! Only God’s Holy Spirit can bring lasting change. Cloaked in every psychedelic experience is Satan – disguising himself as an ‘angel of light,' masquerading himself as a great seer, or representative of God.”
My explanation of an LSD, or Peyote trip brought an angered response from John, Mike, and Tom. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” John said. Mike chimed in with an articulate defense about them spreading spiritual awareness of God by dealing acid throughout Orange County. Tom was agitated and verbalized, “Your Jesus encounter is probably a left-over flash-back from acid you’ve taken in the past!”
While Tom was talking John picked up a handgun and loaded it. I’d always reacted negatively to intimidation and this was no exception. Angered, I shared a few Bible Scriptures from Matthew chapter 24 where Jesus speaks clearly about false Christs and their ability to deceive even spiritually-minded people. When I’d finished, John and Mike got up and left the room.
Tom stayed but didn’t say anything. He was still high on something. He grabbed a bag of pot and some papers – rolled a joint, lit it, and asked if I wanted to get high. I declined. It was apparent that any further spiritual discussion was not going to happen unless ‘acid’ was an acceptable part of the equation.
In the afternoon John & Mike were busy making drug transactions with a handful of customers who’d come to score. Meanwhile, Tom and I scrounged up a meal in the kitchen and ate an early dinner. Tom continued to smoke dope and laced it with hash into the evening – which caused him to drift off into a sleep stupor. Tired from the drive south and the intensity of the setting – I crashed for the night on the living room couch.
The next morning I knew I should leave. For privacy sake, Tom and I went outside and sat in his car. I urged him, “Tom, think about the promises you made to yourself in prison to stay away from dealing. Where do you think all this is heading?” I said, pausing. “Don’t you see, the risk is too high? You could easily end up back in prison.” As I talked Tom grew angry, and put the gun to my head, saying, “I’m telling you to shut-up! I don’t want to hear any more of this bull-shit!”
Angered by his threat, and didn’t stop trying to reason with him. Finally – he put the gun down on his lap saying, “I think you’d better go.”
I said “OK,” gathered my things and left.
Eight months later I called Tom’s family when I couldn’t get a hold of him by phone and his mom answered. When I asked how I could contact him, she gave me the news. “Tom’s dead,” she struggled to say in a broken voice. “He was shot in the head in Mexico, and drugs were involved. The police believe that an argument broke out, and one of Tom’s friends may have killed him, but they haven’t been able to prove it conclusively.
Tom’s mom was broken as she went on, “Tom was a good student and everything was great in high school. If only he’d have let God help him. If he’d have listened to some of his friends, or us – and I know you tried to talk to him too, because he told me about your visit. He was embarrassed about how he’d treated you.” Her grief was still fresh and I sensed the pain of her son’s death would never be fully healed. We spoke a little longer and quietly said good-bye.
In the past when I’d called, I found out Tom’s family were Christians and had been praying for him for years. I shared with them at this time how Jesus was changing my life. Knowing Tom and I had been close and that I was now a Christian must have helped her open up to me about a number of things including his death. I was glad she did, but it was shocking news.
The thought of John or Mike putting a bullet in Tom’s head made my stomach churn. It was hard to swallow that Tom’s life had been snuffed out in this way. I knew what drugs could do – making people reckless, ruthless, and capable of killing. Regardless of what happened, Tom was dead and it was a devastating loss.
The sobering reality of life and death increased in my mind after Tom’s death. It pushed me to value the relationships God was giving me and those which were to come. No one has enough genuine, life-time friends!
TO BE CONTINUED
Dave Hoyt and his wife Ginny reside in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He grew up a troubled teen in Los Angeles. In 1966 he moved to San Francisco’s ‘Haight District’ seeking truth and God. Reaching a crisis of belief in Eastern Religions – he turned to prayer and came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. He went on to be an early participant in the Jesus People Movement in the USA and Europe. He continues as a follower of Jesus Christ.
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Last Update: 2015-04-24 11:31