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A Jewish Believer's Story (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 08/28/1997

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The Rev. Lon Solomon talks about his Jewish upbringing and heritage and describes how his spiritual journey eventually led him to faith in Jesus Christ as the true Messiah. (Part 1 of 2)

Episode Transcript

Opening:

Teaser:

Pastor Lon Solomon: My concern was not so much that I was going to hell, 'cause I didn't think I was, really. My concern was I can't find any resources to live life. So I decided I was going to kill myself and as life went in those days, I procrastinated everything so, you know, I put off killing myself. (Laughter)

End of Teaser

John Fuller: It's a gripping story from Pastor Lon Solomon and you'll hear more of that with the unexpected humor he just shared, as well, on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly and thanks for joining us. I'm John Fuller

Jim Daly: John, this is a story of one man trying out everything the world has to offer and coming up empty. You may be in that spot right now and I think, as we move ahead, this will be very interesting for you to listen to. It was a street evangelist who ended up introducing him to Jesus Christ and I would've loved to have been there to hear that conversation. You can hear in that beginning clip the desperation in his voice. Thankfully, he didn't get around to ending his life. I'm glad he was a procrastinator when it came to that act. I don't want to give away too much of Lon's story, but keep in mind, he was raised in a Jewish home.

There's a verse in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, chapter 28, verse 16 which says, "See, I lay out a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation. The one who trusts will never be dismayed." Lon Solomon certainly tripped over that stone, referring to Jesus, the Messiah, but ended up falling to his knees in faith before Him.

John And today, Dr. Solomon is the senior pastor of the McLean Bible Church in Virginia and that's a congregation he founded in 1980. He has his own radio program called "So What?" and he and his wife, Brenda, have four grown children and eight grandchildren.

And as we begin, the audio quality is a little bit less than the best, yet this story needs to be heard, so lean in and I hope you'll listen carefully to this recording of Lon speaking at a men's breakfast gathering. Here now, Pastor Lon Solomon on today's "Focus on the Family."

Body:

Lon: I was born and raised as a Jew and both of my parents are Jews and my grandparents are and everybody in my family is. And I was bar mitzvahed [sic] when I was 13 and, of course, knew nothing about Christianity, knew nothing about the Lord Jesus Christ, knew nothing about the Bible, I knew nothing about any of these things. I mean, it wasn't that anyone actually, deliberately tried to withhold these things from me, it's just not a part of what Jewish life is all about. You don't read the Bible unless you're ultra-Orthodox. The average Jew doesn't read the Bible. In fact, we didn't even have a Bible in my home.

And yet, we were conservative. My mom would light Sabbath candles. If you went to see Fiddler on the Roof, you saw the ladies there lighting the candles and they even sang a song. You remember when they did that? We had some of that ritual, and we would go to synagogue, but to read the Bible and to pray--I mean, to actually personally pray--was just something that was unheard of in my family.

I can remember times as a young child actually praying. And I can remember times laying in bed and other times where I really sensed that God was real, and even that God answered prayers for me. Now, I don't know how to explain that in light of all the Word of God, but all I can tell you, that was my experience: that He answered small prayers for me.

So I think I grew up believing there was a God, believing that He existed--knew nothing about Him, but I think I had a sense He was real. And then at about 14 or 15, I began getting interested in other things: women, drinking, partying. So for a number of years I had virtually no God contact of any way, shape, or form. You know, I didn't darken the doors of a synagogue for probably six or eight years, or 10 years, or of a church or anything else after that point.

[I] went off to college, thought, "Boy, it's going to be great. I'm going to be out from home, I'm out from under my parents' roof. I'm going to really live it up now." And I did. I joined a social fraternity, half of which were Jews, half of which were not--this was the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and just partying up a storm and having, at least in the flesh, just doing everything you'd ever dreamed about doing in the flesh.

That went on for a couple of years until I was about a sophomore beginning my junior year. And then I got into drugs pretty heavily, because I wasn't really satisfied. The partying, the women, the drinking was just, you know, it was beginning to get old. You know what I'm saying? And so, I thought, and I was really beginning, at that point, to think a little bit more seriously about the issues of life.

So I had some friends. I went up to Woodstock, you know that great music festival they had up there at Woodstock back in '60, what was it, 8 I think, '69, was it? Whenever, but I went up there for that. I was up in New York working in the Catskill Mountains as a waiter--the Borsch Belt, as they called it. And we'd just gone up there and just hitchhiked around from hotel to hotel looking for a job and finally found one and worked as waiters and a lot of money--made a lot of money. And then while we were up there, we stayed for Woodstock. And I got into drugs real heavily then--began doing psychedelics, LSD, and other things like that--and really began believing I'd suddenly bumped into the answer to life, you know, that these psychedelics were expanding my mind, and that I was really headed towards really understanding the issues of life.

So I came back to North Carolina I think as a junior, as I recall--maybe it was as a senior, I forget--and came back really into drugs, not only having them, but coming back and turning my friends on and probably 50 or 60 percent of the people in this fraternity house who ever started using drugs got 'em from me to start with and with my encouragement.

We started doing a lot of tripping out. In fact, after a while, I wasn't even going to class anymore, 'cause we were taking LSD two, three, four times a week and somehow just going and sitting in a classroom wasn't exactly what we felt like doing. You know what I'm saying? So we'd sit in trees on the campus and smoke dope and (Laughter) There's actually a picture in my yearbook from my senior year of me sitting up in a tree with four or five fraternity brothers smoking marijuana on the front inset of this book and I'm just sitting there big as life.

In fact, I still remember the day it happened. We looked down out of the tree, and here's this guy standing down there taking pictures of us on the ground. And we were all pretty well, you know, stoned, but we looked down and said, "What are you doing?" I mean, this is still illegal, you know what I mean? Here's this guy taking pictures of us. He said, "We're gonna put this in the yearbook." And I ... you know, it was too much trouble to get out of the tree (Laughter), you know what I'm sayin'. (Laughter)

So we just kind of said, "Okay. That's great. Go ahead." And sure enough, the front page of the yearbook, here we all are sitting up in this tree smoking dope. So I've got that legacy, but that's what my life was all about. I didn't go to class. I actually thought I was making some spiritual progress. I mean, I really thought for a long time, "Boy, my mind is really expanding. I'm really getting somewhere here."

We would actually send to Amsterdam and smuggle dope back into the country and push it. You know, we were probably among the biggest pushers of dope in Chapel Hill. And I'm only telling you this, not because I'm proud of it, but I want you to understand where I really was when Jesus Christ reached down and grabbed me, because it's important you don't think I was just a normal little nice fella, traveling along the road, keeping my nose clean, and all of a sudden, I just decided it was time to get religious. You've really got to understand where I was in order for my testimony to make any sense to you, and for my life to make any sense to you. So I mean we were about as far from Jesus Christ as a man could humanly be. I mean, we were pushing dope, smoking dope, turning people on, everything you can think of.

Well, I think the turning point in my life was one day--it may not sound that significant to you, but I think it was. We were sitting on this wall in downtown Chapel Hill and we were on LSD. We were tripped out. And I had a real good friend I used to do a lot of dope with and we were talking.

And I was very introspective that day, and I said to him, "You know something?" I said, "It seems like I ought to be getting better, but sometimes I think I'm getting worse. You know? Sometimes I think instead of getting more loving, more kind, more gentle, that I'm actually going in the other direction."

And he said something to me, probably never even realized the significance of it. And he said to me, "Lon," he said, "maybe you're not getting worse. Maybe you're just getting more honest with what you've been all the time." You know, that was an awesome statement to me. That just floored me, but I couldn't shake that comment. Maybe I wasn't getting worse. Maybe I was just getting more honest with what I was all the time.

And as I began to think about that, I began to say, "You know what? That guy's right. I mean, that's really what's happening here, is that all of those drugs were beginning to break down all the conditioning that I had, had regarding who I was, what I told myself I was, what a good guy I was, what a nice guy I was, what a loving guy I was, what an honest guy I was, what a great guy I was. And I was beginning to realize, "You know something? I'm believing my own PR, that none of that stuff is really true."

Way down under here is what I'm seeing now and what I'm seeing, I don't like. And it's not that I'm becoming worse; it's just I'm becoming honest. And I really believe, although there was nothing uniquely Christian or spiritual about that comment, that the Spirit of God really took that one conversation and changed my whole life around, because all of a sudden, my perspective of myself was totally different after that conversation.

Now, all of a sudden, I began to view myself as in need. Now, all of a sudden, I began to say, "I'm not a good, great, healthy, helpful, kind, generous, trustworthy, and the whole Boy Scout code type of guy. But really, if I examine what's really in my heart, I'm not there. I'm selfish, I'm self-centered, I'm self-ingratiating, I'm worried about me more than anybody else, etc., etc., etc. I'm immoral, I'm unethical. And this is what I am, and it's all been a game to tell myself I was anything different."

Well, I began to follow that along and I began to realize, "I need help." The more I began to deal with those thoughts, the more I began to realize that I need help. So, all of a sudden, the drugs became passé. I wasn't interested in them anymore because I could see they weren't going to help me with that problem. So I began trying to get into religion. I got into Taoism, that's spelled with a T. You know, T-A-O-I-S-M. I got into Confucianism. I read a lot of Watts' books on Zen Buddhism, looking for anything I could get my hands on to help me deal with this internal problem. It's like opening a person up with cancer. You know, they say once the oxygen hits the cancer, it takes off like a rocket, even if they sew you back up. They don't know what that is. But you know, you've heard people say it.

That's how I felt like [sic]. I felt like this guy had cracked me open and now the cancer was growing at a rapid rate. And all of a sudden, my whole perspective of myself began to just accelerate until I began to start feeling, "Man, I am really a rotten, crummy guy. I really need some help. Where am I going to get help from?" That all happened, I guess, over a period of a few months.

And I went through all these Eastern religions and went out with everything I had in me and tried to be realistic with them, tried to practice them, tried to put them into practice. They sounded like such great stuff. I gave it all that I had. The problem was, it never worked. None of this stuff worked. It sounded great on paper, but I couldn't make it work in real life.

So after going through just about everything I could think of, I went to see a rabbi who was down there--a campus rabbi. I said to him, "I really need help." Well, I don't think he understood what in the world I was talking about. I said, "Man, I'm hurting. I need some help. You know, is there anything here that you've got that can help me? Maybe I need to be a rabbi." Well, you know, I had hair out to here and I don't think he was particularly crazy about that idea. (Laughter)

Listen, guys, there's a lot of pastors who wouldn't have been crazy out here if the guy had walked in and said, "I think I'm going to be a pastor," either because I didn't look like an ideal candidate and so, he worked with me a little bit and gave me some things to read, but the bottom line is, I mean, there was really nothing in Orthodox Judaism that could help me. It made me feel good I was a Jew, but it couldn't deal with where my soul was hurting. I needed somebody to take me internally and change me and there was nothing there that could do that.

So I finally gave up on that idea of going off and being a rabbi. I finally gave up on the idea of even talking to this rabbi anymore because he didn't seem to even be in touch with what I was talking about. And then I had nothing. Then I felt like, boy, going back to Judaism was the last straw. I mean, that was my last hope. Now I've got absolutely nothing. What in the world am I gonna do?

At that point, I think I was still convinced I was going to heaven, because I remember as a child, I had some friends in high school that began challenging me about heaven and hell. And of course, I'd never even heard of heaven and hell, you know, as a Jewish boy. So I went and asked the rabbi. I remember we used to go to Hebrew school twice a week after school. I remember one day asking him, "Hey, do Jews go to heaven or hell?" And once he kinda picked himself off the floor, you know, "I mean, where is this question coming from?" You know, he said, "Well, all Jews go to heaven." And I said, "Really?" I mean, that was great news, you know? And so, he said, "Yeah." And I said, "Well, can you tell me why, 'cause I've got friends at school telling me I'm going to hell?" He said, "Sure," and he read to me. He gave me some verses from the Mishna, which is like the commentary--the official rabbinic commentary--on the Bible.

I meant to bring it in. I've got it in my office, the actual quote, but basically it says, "All Jews go to heaven because all of your seed shall be righteous." Isaiah 61. And the names then [of] several Jews that don't: you know, Manasseh's not going and Doeg, the Edomite who slew the priests of the Lord, you know, is not going. And there's a couple others that aren't going, but basically, if you're not one of those really crummy guys, then you're going.

So my concern was not so much that I was going to hell, 'cause I didn't think I was, really. My concern was I can't find any resources to live life. You know, I'm totally bankrupt and I just don't have anything to live life. So I decided, "Man, you know, this is worthless. Why should I grow up, have a family, raise 'em up? You know, I've got no answers for life." So I decided I was going to kill myself, because I figured why go through all that heartache and pain and then die, when I can just die now? And my friends--you know, all my fraternity brothers--they thought I was crazy. I mean, I'm convinced those guys felt like I should have been committed by this point, you know.

I would sit around and smoke dope with them and go into one of these super bummer, negative trips. And everybody would just go, "Get out of here! Get out of here! You know, you're pulling all of us down. We don't even want to talk to you." So I decided, well, maybe I have lost my mind. Maybe I'm crazy. You know, you read about this where you take LSD and you never come back. Maybe I'm still on some LSD trip and everything I'm thinking and dreaming right now is all on the LSD trip and maybe I'm really in some institution and there's some clinical psychologist giving me shock treatment." You know, my mind was really messed up, you know.

But you say to yourself, "What's reality anymore? I'm not even sure I'm really here anymore." So that's kind of where I was, and I was determined I was going to blow my brains out. To be frank with you, I didn't have any money for a gun and I didn't know where to get poison, and as life went in those days, I procrastinated everything, so I put off killing myself. (Laughter) But I was determined I was going to kill myself. It was just a question of when I was going to get around to doing that.

Program Note:

John: Pastor Lon Solomon on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly and if you're at a point of desperation or if you'd like to review this presentation again, because it is so compelling, please get in touch with us and look for the CD or the download or our mobile app, so you can listen to this on the go at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . Or give us a call at 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And now back to Lon Solomon on "Focus on the Family.

End of Program Note

Lon: In the spring of 1970, I think it was 1971, the very early spring, right about this time of year, I was walking downtown in Chapel Hill one day and my dog was with me. I had a dog named Noah. I don't know why I named him Noah, but I did. He's a big German Shepherd and a friend had given him to me when he was a pup. And we were walking downtown one day, and it was a fairly warm day, and here was this guy standing on the street corner handing out tracts. Well, I didn't know what they were. He had this big Econoline van. He had Scripture written all over the side of this van, a big speaker on the top blasting out Christian hymns down the sidewalk. And I just thought, "Now I know I'm crazy (Laughter). You know, am I really seeing this? Who is this guy?" You know, I mean, and the guy's standing there handing out tracts.

Well, if you can identify with a college town like Chapel Hill, there's only two or three blocks of downtown--very college, very intellectual, very philosophical. This guy was not well-received, to put it mildly. People, I mean, people spit on this guy, people took his tracts and crumpled them up and threw them down in front of him. People threw things at him, cursed him out on the street. The guy was a gutsy guy. I mean, you've got to give him credit. He'd just come, him and his wife, all by themselves, standing out there all day long on Saturdays and hand out tracts. He worked over in Durham, which was about eight, 10 miles away. And on Saturdays, which was his day off, he'd come over there and stand around all day and hand out tracts.

Well, I had seen him once or twice before, but this day I was walking by him and my dog got into a little dog fight right there, you know, just a little scuffle. And I was pulling my dog off this other dog and all of a sudden, this man is standing right in front of me, you know. And he just looks at me and I just look at him. I mean, this is the weirdest human being I've ever seen, you know what I mean? I mean, nobody stands around and does this kind of stuff on the street corner. So, you know, I'm really scared of this guy. I don't know who this guy is or what he's all about. Jesus things are written all over his van, and that alone, as a Jew, scared me.

But we looked at each other. He looked at me. I looked at him. I didn't have the slightest idea what do you say to a guy who stands on a street corner and hands out tracts like that, you know? I didn't know. I'm afraid I'm gonna say the wrong thing, so I just, I just said, "Hi." What do you say? I said, "Hello." And so, he said, "Hi!" And then I thought, "Now what do I say?" So I didn't say anything. I just said, "Well, I'll see you." And he said, "Okay," and I walked on down the street.

But you know, as I had stood there just for, it couldn't have been more than 30 seconds, looking into that guy's face, something went off inside of me that said, "Hey, you know something? That guy has got what you're looking for." I can't tell you how I felt that. Can't describe it in words. But just looking deep into his eyes, I could sense, "That guy has got something you're looking for." Now that was really significant, you see, because I had come to the place where I was convinced that nobody had what I was looking for.

My fraternity brothers were saying, "Man, there's nobody who knows the kind of answers you want. Nobody's got them. You know, you're asking questions nobody in the world knows the answers to. Why don't you stop asking those kind of questions?" And I had come to really believe that. I figured, "Well, I've never met anybody who had any of the answers to any of that stuff, so maybe they're right. Maybe nobody has answers to questions like, `Where are we from and where are we going and what's the purpose of being here?'"

But for the first time this is the first human being I'd ever met in this whole scenario that I really felt like had any kind of answers. So I thought about that and I thought about that and I began, every week, going by him. I'd take his tracts. I'd take them home. [I] wouldn't read them, but I felt like the guy deserved somebody to take what he was handing out (Laughter) and not throw it back at him or step on it or spit on him, because he was a sincere guy. You know what I'm saying? And sincere people were at a premium. So I figured, "Well, I'll at least take his tract. I'll be kind to the man." I had a stack about that high at home on my bureau. I hadn't read any of them, but I took 'em anyway, you know.

And finally, about four, five, six weeks later, I decided, "You know what? I really ought to go talk to this guy. I really ought to go talk to this guy and find out what in the world he's pushing." So I went down one Saturday afternoon, and I walked up to him and I said, "Hey, you know what?" I said, " I'd like to talk to you sometime." That took all the courage in the world I could muster to say this to [him]. He was an awesome kind of guy--spiritually, metaphysically--in my mind.

So he said, "Great. Why don't we talk this afternoon? Come back at three o'clock." I couldn't integrate that, fellows. It was too soon. You know what I mean? It's like when you ask somebody over for dinner and they say, "How about today?" You know? (Laughter)

You know, it was too soon. I couldn't (Laughter) deal with that. It was like I expected him to say, "Well fine. Let's make it a couple of weeks," and I could kinda get myself psyched up, you know. So I said, "No, not today. I've got some other things I've got to do," which was a complete lie, you know, but I just said, "Maybe I'll see you next week." So I said, "I've got to go," and I headed off down the street. I guess I'd walked, oh, 10, 15 yards.

Now you've got to picture this. This was a warm, sunny, April day or something akin to that, people all over the streets. Here's this nut standing on the street, and he screams at me down the street, cups his hands around his mouth like this--I'm about 15 yards down the street--and he screams at me down this crowded street, "You may not be here next week!" (Laughter)

So I said, "Hoosh! I'm glad I got away from that." So we just took off down the street, my dog and I, you know. And I guess as I was walking, I began thinking, "You know what? That guy's right. I mean, I got [sic] no guarantee I'm gonna be here next week." I had lost friends that I'd gone to high school with already. I'd had several good friends already killed. One had died of a kidney infection, a real good friend of mine. Another had been killed in a motorcycle accident. I thought to myself, "You know something? That cat's right." So I said, "All right. I'm going back to see him."

So I summoned all my strength, and around 3 o'clock went back to see him and he was gone. I mean, he didn't know I was coming, it wasn't his fault. He had just left for the afternoon. Man, I was petrified. I felt like this guy had laid a prophecy on me (Laughter) that I wasn't gonna live another week. I mean, I know that sounds a little silly, but you've gotta understand where I was mentally and that the Spirit of God was working on my life and I was really petrified now. I was scared to death.

So I decided in the middle of the week, I'm gonna buy a Bible. I told my friend "I'm gonna buy a Bible." My friend said, "You're going to do what?" I said, "I'm gonna go buy a Bible." He said, "What in the world are you gonna do that for?" I said, "I don't know. I think I ought to buy a Bible." Man, I didn't know how expensive Bibles were. I mean, I went down into this bookstore and started looking for a Bible. This was no lie. In those days, we were between dope shipments, and I had about five bucks to my name. That's about it, five or $6. I was eating the scraps from our fraternity house kitchen, 'cause I didn't have enough money to buy the food. I would serve the meals and they'd let me eat the leftovers. I mean, that's where I was.

So, I went in and I finally found a little itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy paperback Bible that was like, three bucks or something--two-and-a-half, three bucks. Well, that was fifty percent of my life savings at that point. So, you know, my friend, who was not a Christian--he was the guy who told me that maybe you're really the one who's been so bad off--he said, "Look, Lon, I don't know what you're doing," he said, "but if this God you're talking about is so real, don't you think He's big enough, he can give you a Bible without you having to spend fifty percent of the money you've got on a Bible?" I said, "Well, sounds spiritual." (Laughter) So I put the Bible back.

Now, let me tell you why that's significant. I didn't know anybody with a Bible. See, as Christians, we forget this. I mean, people weren't going around reading their Bibles and people weren't going around giving Bibles out. I even said to him, I said, "Now where in the world, where in the world am I going to get a Bible from? Who in the world's going to give me a Bible? I've never owned one. I've never seen one. My fraternity brothers definitely didn't have any. Where am I gonna get a Bible from?" But I said, "Look, you're right," because I didn't want to spend the money for it, anyway.

Closing:

John: Well, we've been listening to Pastor Lon Solomon on today's "Focus on the Family" and we will be back with the conclusion of his story next time. This is really kind of a cliffhanger moment right here.

Jim: It is, John and his story thus far is not all that unusual. Many folks grow up in homes where maybe there's a religion that's followed, maybe Christian, maybe Jewish who knows, but not a relationship with God and that's the distinction. Lon's story is proof that God pursues us. Lon was looking for peace and contentment, but not finding it in any of the activities or even in any of the religions he was looking into. As he said, he tried them all.

And maybe you or someone you know is seeking peace and contentment, as well. Maybe, like Lon, you've tried everything you can think of and have come up empty or come up short. Can I suggest you contact us here at Focus on the Family? We're here to listen to your story, to know where you're at and to offer you hope. This is why we exist. This is our core mission to introduce you to the one who gives us peace and gives us assurance and that's Jesus Christ.

In fact, we have an online booklet called "Coming Home: An Invitation to Join God's Family." And it's a simple explanation of what the Bible declares to be true. And you know, some people don't have a Bible, like Lon. They didn't know where to go or how to get one and we never want that to be the case. So, if you need a Bible, we want to provide one for you.

John: That's a great idea, Jim and why don't you just call us here at Focus on the Family if you need one and if you don't have a Bible, ask. We'll send that to you at no charge. You'll want to call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY for that; 800-232-6459.

And for resources other than that Bible, please go to www.focusonthefamily.com/radio where you'll find the CD or the download of this broadcast and also our mobile app, so you can listen on your phone or tablet while you're movin' along in a fast-paced life. Those and other helps at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .

And while you're there, please remember to give generously to the ministry of Focus on the Family. We rely on your financial partnership and when you make a contribution, we'll send the CD of this two-day broadcast by Lon Solomon to you as our way of saying thanks for your support. You can make that contribution online or when you call 800-232-6459.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We'll hear the second half of Lon Solomon's story about coming to faith in Jesus and once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Guest

Lon Solomon

View Bio

Lon Solomon has served as the senior pastor of McLean Bible Church in Virginia since 1980. He is a radio broadcaster who hosts a weekly 30-minute program called So What? as well as a series of radio spots titled Not a Sermon, Just a Thought. Lon is the author of two books, Brokenness and The 23rd Psalm for the 21st Century. He and his wife, Brenda, are the founders of Jill's House (named after their disabled daughter, Jill), a respite care ministry and resort center for families with special needs children. Lon and Brenda have been married since 1974 and have four grown children and eight grandchildren.