I was the second oldest of four children in a Jewish family and grew up in middle-class suburban New Jersey. In addition to attending public school, I began attending Hebrew school at the age of seven and learned how to read, write, and speak Hebrew. When I was thirteen I had my bar mitzvah and stopped my Hebrew training shortly after that. The truth is that although I had greatly enjoyed learning the Hebrew language and learning about Jewish history when I was younger, by the time I was thirteen I couldn’t wait to get away from anything that connected me with my Jewish heritage. What had been becoming increasingly more important to me was being liked and accepted by other people. And none of my friends were Jewish. So this made me different from them, and I didn’t want to be different. It was also right at this time that I began to get into drugs and drinking. Smoking pot and getting drunk were mainly for me a part of fitting in with the friends I was hanging around with. Although I had the potential to do very well in school, and sometimes did get good grades, I was applying myself less and less to schoolwork, and more and more into getting high, drunk, and pursuing promiscuous sex. This kind of behavior was what my friends and I did for fun. Much of my time in high school was spent smoking pot and getting stoned before or during school, and weekends were devoted to this and seeing how much beer and liquor we could consume and how drunk we could get.
When I first started getting high, it was fun. But after a few years, it wasn’t so much fun anymore. I found that I was having awful, paranoid, fearful thoughts and became more and more self-conscious and alienated from my parents and other adults, particularly authority figures like teachers. The trouble is that even though I was beginning to hate getting stoned because of how depressed it would make me, I couldn’t stop. I don’t think that I was physically addicted as much as I was psychologically addicted; I was addicted to fitting in and being socially acceptable because of my own terrible insecurity. This insecurity caused me to be addicted to anti-social destructive behavior instead of engaging in productive, responsible activity. By the age of fifteen, my friends and I were going into New York City where we would get served at bars. We’d get drunk, then stoned at rock concerts where even the police didn’t seem to mind. In fact, the whole decade of the seventies during which I spent my critical teenage years seemed to be like one big party. Yes: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Another way to put it: selfishness and rebellion, and I was a full, eager participant.
My world was very self-centered; I only cared for satisfying my own desires. My friends and I all played various sports and loved violence. We enjoyed physically hurting people we didn’t like and destroying other people’s property. In some perverse, distorted way this somehow made us feel better about ourselves, as well as simply being a way to have fun. I had no meaningful relationships with members of the opposite sex, but only used them to satisfy my own lust. By the time I graduated from high school, I had been in trouble with the police for stealing from stores, breaking into buildings and destroying property, and setting fires. There were much more illegal, destructive things we did for which we never did get caught. I was a discipline problem in high school and was suspended a number of times. All of this behavior was very acceptable among my friends and the girls who would hang out with us. As a matter of fact, I found that my personal identity soon became directly dependent upon how much trouble I could get in or how much I could get away with.
I started college in the fall of 1977. My goal: to have a good time. With the sense of freedom of being out from under my parents’ authority, it was just more sex, drugs, and destruction. I only made it two semesters my freshman year before being thrown out of college. I was failing some courses and doing just enough to get by in others. I was punching holes in dormitory walls and people's faces. By this time I had acquired the nickname Dr. Evil. I loved it. I was somehow accepted and admired, especially by the “Animal House” fraternity I was joining. Except that this kind of behavior was not tolerated on a college campus for long. I had attacked and harassed other students, with one of them describing me in a letter to the dean as “a madman possessed”.
My being suspended for the remainder of the year was a total shock to my parents. They didn't realize that any of these things were going on because we really didn't have much of a relationship. They did the best they could trying to handle all this, even suggesting that I get psychiatric help. I told them I was fine, I didn't need any help. I went out and got a series of jobs. But I was restless and longed to once again be back in the “free” environment of college life. I wrote to the dean and asked if they would let me come back to college in the fall. He wrote back telling me they would allow me back, but that any behavior similar to that which caused me to be suspended would not be tolerated; there would be no more chances.
Unfortunately, the only way this affected me was to strengthen my determination not to get caught. I was still the same person, desperately insecure, selfish, and longing for attention and acceptance.
About a month into the fall term, I was talking late into the night hours with a friend named Tom. I was in a relationship with a female student, the basis of which was sexual. I wanted to end the relationship, and I was asking Tom’s advice and sharing my thoughts and feelings about the whole thing with him. As we were talking, he told me something that really surprised me. He told me that a few months prior, he had accepted Jesus Christ as the Lord of his life. I listened intently and asked him many questions. One thing was certain: Tom was a different person from the way I remembered him freshman year. I remembered him as being what you might call flaky, and his reputation, at least on the wrestling team, of which we were both a part, was one of being eccentric and kind of weird. But now as we spoke and he shared with me the truths of the love and forgiveness of Jesus, I realized that he was a much different person. There was a stability to his life that was visible and a reality and conviction to the words he spoke to me. These words were like nothing I’d ever heard before. As I listened and asked questions, a real sense of hope was beginning to affect me. Up to this point I didn’t even realize how much I had made a mess of my life. If I did realize it, I didn’t care enough to change or know I could change. But as I heard that giving my life to Jesus and letting Him come in and take control could make me a new person, there was a sense deep inside me that I needed to get to know this God. Not only did I need to get to know Him and turn from living for myself, I found that I wanted to get to know this God. What’s interesting is that although I had boasted for most of my life that I didn’t believe in God, and without a doubt lived that way, I had begun thinking about and even talking to some kind of a “higher power” a few months before my conversation with Tom. You might say I was becoming aware of something, somebody greater than I. Not that it was changing my life, but inside something was stirring.
As Tom told me about how his asking Jesus Christ to come into his life to be his Lord had changed him, I could see the reality of this in him. Hope, excitement, and a desire to find out more about this God gripped me. Tom gave me a bible to read, and for a month and a half, I read and had more conversations about Jesus. I spent this time really feeling that I would love to trade in my old life for a brand new one and live for this Jesus who loved me so much that He was willing to die for me and who wanted to have a relationship with me. But there was a battle going on inside of me. What would my friends think of me if I started to follow Jesus? Would I have to really stop being the boss of my own life? Frankly, the idea seemed very attractive because all that being my own boss had done for me was to make me miserable. In light of the these new claims about who Jesus was, I was beginning to see how lonely I really was and how much bondage I was truly in. I was sensing that God was bringing me to a choice about the rest of my life. And yet I still kept putting off making a decision. After this month and a half, I was talking with Tom, still obviously indecisive. Tom gently but firmly told me, “Martin, you're throwing your life down the drain.” This was what I needed to bring me to the place of surrender. I remember thinking to myself at this point, “Well, Martin, are you going to live for some beer cans and the acceptance of your friends, or are you going to do what’s right and allow Jesus to become the Lord of your life?”
One thing remained for me to do. Tom had given me an open invitation to come to the fellowship meetings he went to. He had told me that the people in the church of which he was a part “were free to express how they felt about Jesus and so it might seem a little different to me.” Not having ever been to any church meeting, I didn’t really know what to expect. I told him I wanted to go to the meeting with him that Sunday evening. It’s hard to describe what I felt that night, but I knew that the love and presence of God was in that place. People were joyful and excited and...dancing! Jesus was worshiped, and as He was praised, He was flooding me with a desire to know Him and love Him and spend the rest of my life-and forever-living for Him. As soon as we left the meeting and were walking home, I said, “Okay, Tom, I want to do it. I want to be saved. What do I do?” We prayed, and I asked Jesus to come in and live inside me and be the Lord of my life. I told Him that I wanted to turn from living for myself.
I was so happy! I was clean! The guilt and shame that came from living my own way and apart from God were gone! I knew Jesus had come to live inside of me and that He did indeed give me a brand new life. I was excited about the prospect of getting to know Him and was filled with courage and resolve to turn away from my old life and belong to Him and be part of His people. Later that evening as we went to Tom’s apartment which he shared with one of the pastors of the fellowship, they asked me if I wanted to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I didn't know what this was, but I told them that I wanted the whole package, and that if Jesus wanted me to have this, then of course I did, too! We prayed, and I kept thanking Jesus for coming into my life, and He filled me with His Holy Spirit. The date was November 26, 1978. It was the day I was born again, the day I finally received what Jesus had done for me nearly two thousand years earlier by dying on the cross and taking away my sins.
I now began to experience the truth in my own life that Jesus didn’t just die for my sins, but that He was also raised from the dead and was still alive because I was beginning to live differently. It was His new life in me that was enabling me to do this. I began to experience a love and concern for people that I’d never had before. The anger and rebellion and aimlessness were being replaced by God’s peace, a desire to submit to His ways, and a true purpose in life. He began to change area after area in my life. One of the most obvious changes happened very quickly. I had always cut right to the front of the line in the cafeteria because I didn't want to stand in line. Nobody was going to stand in my way. But the first time I went to the cafeteria after meeting Jesus, He clearly told me that I could not do this anymore, that it was wrong. So, I stopped doing this.
I began to realize that I was put here to love and serve God with all my heart and to let other people know and demonstrate how much He loved them and that they, too, could be friends with Him. It was like the lights were turned on. I found the courage to tell my old friends that I couldn’t join their fraternity, but that if they would give up their lives and let Jesus come in, they could know Him also. God gave me the privilege of introducing quite a few of my friends and people I knew to Him. I guess they figured that if He could change even “Dr. Evil”, well then perhaps He could transform their lives, too. There wasn’t any thrill in my old life that could compare to the joy of being able to do this for others. The Creator of the universe had sent His Son to die for me so I could know His love and forgiveness, be His friend forever, and share this love with others. BACK_TO_TOP