Michael Brown: from drug addict to a disciple of Yeshua
As a 15-year-old boy, Michael could do greater quantities of drugs than any of his friends. In an attempt to drag his friends out of the church, the love of the people and the message of the Gospel touch his heart. But how can a Jew believe in Jesus? Watch his testimony: “From drug addict to disciple of Yeshua”.
Subtitles from youtube video
I will never forget what happened to me on this very street-corner. The first weekend of September, 1971. I’d taken enough hallucinogenic drugs for 30 people, more than living up to my drug bear reputation, but this time I went too far. Walking off in the bus stop, I got disoriented, just a few blocks away from my home and sat down right here. At 1:30 in the morning I thought I was losing my mind, I felt like I’d died and gone to hell. But what happened next, proves that truth is stranger than fiction. Join on my journey from LSD to Ph.D.
I’ve more than lived up to my high school nicknames ‘Drug Bear’ and ‘Iron Man’ but this time I went too far. Even I couldn’t handle the equivalent of one ounce of mescaline. Sitting here right at this corner, 1:30 in the morning. I thought it was over and I started screaming at the top of my lungs “I’m burning in hell, I’m roasting in hell.” Then to my shock a friend of my parents came by, walking his dog. I still remember thinking of myself, “Why is he walking his dog in hell?” When he walked away I made a decision, “I’m gonna do like they do in the movies. I’m gonna end it. The next car that comes by, I’m gonna jump in front of it.” A few minutes later I heard a sound coming right from this corner. Car coming down and I realised, “This is my moment.” I saw the headlights came screeching around the corner. I jumped in front of the car, I threw my hands up and it stopped, just a few inches away from me. It was my parents. If it had been anybody else I would have been dead.
But what was I doing there anyway, stoned out of my mind. How did a nice Jewish boy like me get so messed up? Why was I thinking about hell? Let me go back to the beginning. I was born in New York City in 1955. My father was the senior lawyer in the New York Supreme Court. He and my mom were as happily married as any couple that I have ever known. My upbringing was typical of New York, Conservative Jewish kids in those days. We moved to Long Island, I was almost 7 years old and like most of my friends I just basically had fun, played sports, went to school, stayed out of trouble.
But then something changed. It all began innocently enough. I started playing drums when I was 8 years old and I really got into it. I was taking private lessons. I even played on a studio album at the age of 15. But my favourite music was rock music and after I was Bar Mitzvahed right in this synagogue in 1968, I wanted to be in a rock band and later that year I saw the Jimmy Hendrix experiences at the New York Philharmonic and, man, I wanted to be like Jimmy and his band. So when I was just 14 years old, someone offered me pot. I thought, “I’m going to try getting high.” but nothing happened when I smoked it. Now I was intrigued, so I tried smoking hash and harder drugs and still nothing happened. So I started to use ups and downs and LSD and really getting into drugs, but I said, “That’s it, that’s where I draw the line. I won’t do anything harder than this.”
Problem is we can deceive ourselves as easily as we can deceive other people and I didn’t realise that I was heading down a very slippery slope. Soon I started using speed, then I started shooting speed. Of course I was sure I would never put a needle in my arm. Then I discovered heroin and started shooting heroin and I loved it. I was just 15 years old. By the time I was 16, my grades started going down in school. My life was just filled with drugs, rock music and rebellion. My friends and I would do crazy things. We broke into some houses for fun. We broke into this very doctor’s office and experimented with the drugs we found, we actually mainlined adrenaline. We did something else that was crazy, let me show you. We just had to push things to the limit. So on two occasions my friends and I climbed to the top of that giant smoke stack. I mean the really tall one and smoked pot there, just to do something wild. We were cool, we’re doing our thing. One day we’d be famous rock stars.
God had other plans. My two best friends liked two sisters, whose uncle was a pastor and their dad had been praying for them for years. The girls started going to this little church and they got drawn in. So my friends went to the church just to spend time with them and they got drawn in and interested. The question is, what in the world would interest two totally non-religious drug-using hippies?
There’s no question we were messed up, we were shooting drugs into our veins. For the most part, we were just having a good time, enjoying the latest buzz, getting high and when you added drugs to rock music, listening to music, playing music, going to concerts, high. They brought you to a whole new world and I lived for those concerts, I saw Janis Joplin, I saw Jim Morrison and The Doors, I saw Hendrix again. I went to the Fillmore East over and over, I saw the Who and Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, and Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin and Ten years After and all these different groups. But there was something else going on, in addition to the drugs and the rock music. It seemed in those days everybody was telling about spiritual things, everybody was telling about life after death and ultimate reality. So we got high, we listened to music and played music and we’d speculate. So when my friends started attending church services something interesting happened. The people in this little church talked about God as if they knew Him personally. They talked about supernatural experiences they had and little by little my friends started to get touched.
Why do people turn to God? “Some people turn to something to fill their voids, if there’s emptiness in a life. People, for a variety of reasons, turn to something that will fill that void. Unfortunately some turn to religion, looking for some sort of a formulary fix, but some within that will turn to a true relationship with God and then they will be healed.“ “Everybody needs something in his life to hold onto, it can be religion, it can be living a good life, it can be family, it can be Jesus.” “I know before I got back into Christianity, I was pretty much force fed it when I was a youth. You know I went a long period in my life where it didn’t apply to me. You know I did a lot of bad things, I did some stuff that kids do. You know just come into being a young man, I just believe that it gives me something to believe in.”
It was when my friends really started to change, that I determined enough is enough. I’m going to pull them out of this silly religion. See they had been raised nominal Christian, but now they really believed in Jesus. They were different, they didn’t want to party with me anymore. So I made a determination. August of ‘71, I was sixteen years old. I said, “I’m going to this very church building,” it used to be called The Springfield Assembly of God That’s where my friends were going and I was going to mock this religion. Instead, I was confronted with genuine love.
Here I was with my long hair, hippie look and bad attitude and mean spirit and these older people in suits and ties and dresses, embraced me. And without me knowing it, some of them made a determination, from that day on they were going to start praying for me. Now if there’s no God, prayer is just a meaningless exercise. I remember during my drug days attending a high holy day service at the synagogue with my parents and I was reading the prayer book and all these praises to God, I said to myself, “Looks like God is on some kind of a big ego trip.” To me the thing was just a joke and I lived a decadent, wicked life. You have to understand when I first went to that church building, a young lady wrote down in her diary “anti-Christ comes to church.” I sinned everywhere I knew how to sin and I stole money from my own father. I betrayed my best friends. I did every drug I could possibly do from angel dust to cocaine, I shot LSD with no physical adverse affect on me at all. And the wild thing is, I never felt guilty for two solid years. And then these people started praying and something started to get under my skin, I started to feel like a wretch. I’d do drugs as I used to do and try to go to sleep like I always did, I couldn’t. I stayed up at night, I started to feel miserable. What are you doing do to your parents? What are you doing to your friends? What kind of wretch are you? The Bible calls this conviction of sin and that’s what was happening to me. Have you ever been found out by God?
Finally on November 12th 1971, I agreed to go to another church service. Being a Jew in a church service that was a little awkward, but that wasn’t my biggest issue. My biggest issue was pride. I was not about to admit I was wrong and the second thing was my lifestyle. I loved the way I was living, despite the guilt I was feeling. Even if God was real and Jesus was the Saviour, I was not about to change, I wanted to be a rock star.
So, at the end of that service, the pastor asked, “Is there is anyone here that wants to receive Jesus?” I didn’t know what it meant, but I thought, “You know if I will go up here and all these old people, that are praying for me, will really get a kick out of it because I’m such a notorious sinner.” So I went up and he said, “Repeat this prayer.” And as I said the words something happened, it was like a light went on inside me and I realised, “I actually believe this, I actually believe Jesus died for my sins, I think it’s real.”
But I had a problem, I was not about to change. I’d just purchased a whole large quality of cocaine that I was dealing. I was going to go home and shoot cocaine that night, I was determined. So I prayed a prayer, I actually prayed this I said “God, when I go home tonight if you don’t want me to get high when I shoot cocaine, don’t let anything happen to me.” I actually smoked angel dust and then shot cocaine and nothing happened. Got my attention, I thought, “Okay, this is serious” so for 6 weeks I went back and forth, back and forth. I’d get high one day, I’d go to church the next. Shoot heroin one day, go to church the next. And finally December 17th 1971, in that same little church building I just got filled with the joy of God. I got a real revelation of how much God loved me and I thought, “How in the world can I be living the way I am living?” and right then and there I said, “That’s it, I’m never putting a needle in my arm again!” And from that day on I was dramatically changed.
Well, my parents were thrilled to see the change in my life. After all they were so concerned with all the drugs I was doing but then my dad said, “Okay, that’s great, but now you need to come back to Judaism.” So he brought me to meet the local rabbi. I was only too happy to tell them about my faith.
Then he said, after few months of dialogue, “You need to meet some other Jews, more religious Jews, they are religious like you, except they’re right.” He said, “Your problem is, you don’t know what real Judaism is because you weren’t raised in traditional Judaism.” So he brought me into Brooklyn to meet with some Ultra-Orthodox Jews. They were of Lubavitch Hasidic sect and some of the rabbis there specialise in dealing with young people just like me.
I began to talk to these folks and they seemed serious, they seemed spiritually oriented and I went to a synagogue and I looked inside and all the men with their long beards praying. I’d never seen anything like that. They certainly looked a whole lot more Jewish than I did, going to a church. And then we sat down and talked when we went through scripture after scripture, but they had an answer for everything I said. Even though some of the arguments didn’t seem that strong to me, I couldn’t convince them of what I believed. And they sat there with their Hebrew Bibles open, they’d been studying Hebrew since they were kids. I couldn’t even read it. I barely remember the alphabet. I relied on English translation. They were polite but they just kept saying to me, “You know those English translations are just absolutely terrible.”
Now I had a predicament. I knew that I had a real experience with God, I knew my faith in Jesus was real, but I knew I had to answer the objections that these Rabbis were bringing me. So I made a determination, I was going to find out for myself. I was going to study Hebrew. I was going to learn the Biblical languages. I was going to find out everything I could about traditional Judaism. And I was going to follow the truth, no matter where it lead, I had to.
I will not try to get you to be politically correct, just to be honest. Why do you think people turn to God? “They are afraid of death.” Afraid of death. “Spiritual homeless.” Spiritual homeless. “So a last grasp, your last resort, when you’re rock bottom.” So, what if I’m completely happy with my life? Like in my case, I was actually into drugs, I wanted to be a rock star, was playing drums in a rock band, so I was very happy living a crazy life. Was that ok? “Yes, no, yes, you went rock bottom at some point?” No, I liked the way I was living but I came to the conclusion that God didn’t like it. In other words it’s not just my reality, that’s how most of us live, “It’s my space, what feels good, that’s what I want to do.” But the question is, is there absolute right and wrong, absolute reality. So even if I like what I’m doing, maybe God doesn’t like it. “I grew up very conservative Christian and now I’m not so sure about it all anymore.” Isn’t that interesting. What is it making you unsure? “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” “Yes, you do.” “Why is that the one right path?” “Pressure from her family.” “Why is that the right one path? If you’re a good person? What about all the other people that believe other things?” Let’s say, I believe this is California and you believe it’s Mongolia and you believe it’s Montana and you believe it’s Puerto Rico. We can believe it so fervently and say, “I know, I know, my parents told me.” That doesn’t change the truth.
What do you think of Jews who believe in Jesus? “Jesus was Jewish and the first century church was almost entirely Jewish in its early stages. So it’s quite Jewish to believe in Jesus.” “For us it’s a mystery, to know who is the next Messiah. So we cannot say what’s the name of Him and anyone that will come is welcome.” “There are no Jews for Jesus, you are either a Jew or you are not a Jew. You’re not a Jew for Jesus.”
So how seriously did I take the objections of the rabbis? One day after meeting with them for a few more hours, I went home and prayed to God. I cried out, I said, “God, if it’s wrong for me as a Jew to believe in Jesus, then I’ll abandon the faith, no matter how foolish I look. But if Jesus is really our Messiah I’m going to follow Him. No matter how much rejection I experience from my own people.” Look I was willing to go against the grain for drugs and rock music. Sure I can go against the grain for God. You know over the years I found something very interesting. People are so paralyzed by the opinions of others, they are so hypnotized by religious tradition, they never even stop to ask God if they are doing the right thing. They never even explore the possibility if Jesus could really be our Messiah after all. As much as they criticized me, they haven’t stopped and looked into their own hearts or their own lives. For me, I couldn’t live like that.
I was determined to get to the bottom of things, so I spent more time with the rabbis. I spent Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, with a Lubavitch family, just to get an insider’s view. And I gave myself to study, I earned a bachelor’s degree in Hebrew and then I got a masters and a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. I didn’t want to have to rely on the dictionaries, I didn’t want to have to just read what the commentaries said, I wanted to read the original text for myself. I studied every possible rabbinic objection, I could find. Look if the truth is on our side we’ve got nothing to fear. So I debated, I dialogued, I discussed things with rabbis and counter missionaries and Jewish professors. I did as many public debates and dialogues as I could possibly have. In fact I made a policy, before every debate, to sign an agreement that the debate would be available in full unedited form to the public. Let me say it again, we’ve got nothing whatsoever to hide. But after a while something strange happened. The more I studied, the more I learned, the less debates I got. In fact, I went seven years without a single Rabbi being willing to debate me. And you have to start to wonder could it be that there’s solid evidence for our faith? Could it be that the Hebrew Scriptures actually point to Jesus, Yeshua as the Messiah? Could it be that the rabbis are wrong?
How can you be absolutely sure? I’m hundred percent sure, I’d for it this second without any hesitation. What would make you totally sure? “About?” About is there really a God? Is Jesus really the Saviour? Is this God’s way? “What faith is?” What you believe? “How can you be sure? Well it’s not math. You know, you can’t. You can’t prove that.” But can God make you know? “I think there is a certain knowing that you have inside, that you have. You know, how you come to it, it is your own path. If you help others come to that path, that’s fine. You have to find yourself.” So here’s just what I want to present to you, okay? God can make Himself known. Just like somebody knows they’re in love and wants to spend the rest of their lives together, where they find a passion, this is where I’m made for. God can make you know for sure. If you get alone in your room when nobody’s looking and there’s no pressure. You just say, God if this is true, make me to know in such a way that nothing can shake me from it. He knows how to get that. “Did He do that to you?” Of course. “How?” What was the moment? What was the precise moment? There was a process of 5 weeks from November 12th of ‘71 to December 17th of ’71 where I started to feel, deep inside that the way I was living was wrong before God. Whereas for two years I couldn’t care less, I never felt guilt. And then, one night, it was December 17th of ‘71 just in a little church service, singing these silly little songs, to me. I was used to listening to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and all this. Singing these little church hymns, I got flooded with a sense of God’s love for me. I mean I understood He cared for me, like nobody else. Jesus really died for me. And this joy flooded through me different than anything I ever knew of any good or bad experience. You know drugs or doing nice things, this joy flooded through me. And I knew the reality of the love of God and right then and there, I said, “I will never put a needle in my arm again.” I said that over 35 years ago. “What did you do over the 35 years?” Well I have been married 31 years, 2 kids, 4 grandkids, Ph.D. from NYU, written 20 books, travelled around the world, been president of three Bible colleges and I try to help people.
Those folks asked some really good questions. How do you answer it? All the different world religions in Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims everybody. They all think they’re right, but see that’s the whole proof that’s something’s wrong because they can’t all be right at the same time. Especially when some of them say that they’re the only true way to God. As a Jew, you can say, “Well look, I have Judaism but what about the rest of the world? What about all the other people?” Judaism by design is for the Jews, but Jesus, by design, is for everybody. No matter how far away you are from God, no matter how good or bad you’ve been. We all fall short, we all need mercy, we all need help and that’s the message about Jesus, that’s the message of the gospel, which literally means “good news”. God’s Son took all of our sins and shortcomings and failures and died, so that we could live. You say, “How can we be sure about it, all these other people, all these other opinions. How can we be so sure?” That’s the exact question these folks were asking and the answer is simple. God can make you to know. God can make you know for sure. He can work in your life in such a way that there are no more questions. Not just satisfying your mind, but in the very depths of your heart, you can come to an absolute conviction that He is true and that Jesus is the one and only way to the Father.
So let me ask you this, is it that hard to stop and ask God sincerely from your heart, “show me the truth. God show me the truth and I’ll follow.” Is it really so hard to do that? You ask. He’ll respond and you’ll be amazed what happens.