Sunday, June 28, 2009


Arrows of sunlight streamed from the morning sun today as we busied ourselves making ready for church. Pastor Brad had a planned absence with his family so we were greeted this morning by Chuck, who led the service with his usual warmth and aplomb.

The announcements were brief: a summation of yesterday's rummage sale which netted close to $500.

The music today was especially meaningful, dovetailing as it did with the guest speaker's testimony. The quartet has expanded now to include Levi Landsverk, and this particular reviewer would state without reservation that the blending melodies had a seamless sweetness that was both evocative and deep. As they sang "Come to the Waters" my eyes were moistened, and it only got better from there.

After the offering and time of prayer, the Scripture readings were from Deuteronomy 30:9-14 and Luke 10:25-37.

In lieu of a traditional sermon, this week Ed Newman took the pulpit and shared his testimony.


Ed began by sharing a short version of his testimony: "Once I was lost and then I was found, and then I ended up even more lost, and then I was found… again."

As an opening Scripture he read from Paul's greeting to the Church at Galatia, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Ed then told about an experience he had while doing some prison ministry in Puerto Rico. "In 1979, while I was in Bible school, I served my internship in Puerto Rico. During that year, God opened a door for me to be involved in prison ministry at the Bayamon Prison. A prison chaplain named Bruce Fowler, with the aid of the Holy Spirit and good timing, got me a pass so that I could help minister to the English speaking prisoners one day a week while Bruce worked with the Spanish speakers.

"I used to lead a Bible study. There were a few small classrooms within the prison where about fifteen to twenty seekers came. It was a very special time for me because God was working and touching some very needy people. On one occasion, a prisoner named Johnny was standing in the corner staring at me in an unusual sort of way, his head cocked to one side. I knew Johnny because he was in for 15-25 years for more than 320 armed robberies. He had not been a nice guy and was especially peeved that his friends ratted on him.

"Johnny looked at me hard and said, 'I know you.'

"I felt the small hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, because as I looked at him, I realized that he did know me. But I could not figure out how. The last five years of my life (since 1974) I had been a Christian, either involved in nursing home ministry or a Bible school in Minnesota.

"But then, he figured it out, for both of us. 'Did you ever cop?' That’s street slang for buying dope. And the answer was clear… Five years earlier, and 35 years ago this past week, I was shooting heroin in his 9th floor apartment in New York’s SoHo district, a seedy part of the City."

Ed shared about how there are certain watershed moments in our lives which at the time may seem small but whose consequences are significant. He cited a quote by Sir James Jeans, a physicist, astronomer and mathematician. “The course of a railway train is prescribed for it at most points of its journey by the rails on which it runs. Here and there, however, it comes to a junction at which alternative courses are open to it, and it may be turned on to one or the other (destination) by the quite negligible expenditure of energy involved in moving the points.”

How does a smart kid from a nice home, a kid who grew up going to church and was confirmed, National Honor Society, cum laude college graduate… get to the point where he is so desperate to get high that he actually stoops to sniffing glue, and is so depressed he wished he could die? It doesn’t happen overnight.

Ed reflected on the key changepoints in his life which ultimately brought him to the Cross.

He was raised in a typical middle class family first in Cleveland, Ohio and then New Jersey. He played baseball, went to church with his mom and brothers, did all the usual things. The messages of the culture during the Sixties, political assasinations, riots in the cities, Viet Nam, hippies, all left him with a personal confusion about his life and how to deal with his sense of alienation from family after the death of his best friend.

How do we deal with our sense of alienation? His church didn't seem to offer answers. He later learned why. During that period of time the Presbyterian church his family attended had a inister who did not believe in the Resurrection. Music and art did bring a measure of comfort, but did not offer answers to the deeper questions.

Ed shared how his inward life had been drifting for two years while he continued to be a good kid, got good grades, did not do drugs or alcohol. But when he left for college he knew he wanted to explore what was out there. Within a week he was smoking pot, and was soon introduced to hashish. Before the first semester passed he was experimenting with psychedelics as Timothy Leary had implored, "Turn on, tune in, drop out."

In addition to the moral and cultural explorations, it was also a time of swirling spiritual explorations and over time Ed was reading a range of counter-cultural philosophers and drinking from the fountain of New Age spirituality.

Over a period of time he enjoyed success in the art school at Ohio University, had many things seemed to go his way, but a failed relationship and other disappointments began to undermine his inner confidence. During this period his brother Ron, who had initially been following in Ed's footsteps (drug experimentation) had a powerful conversion experience at a Catholic Christian Retreat Center in West Virginia where he was a freshman. Ron's love for his older brother led him to get every church he attended to pray for his brother Ed.

"Suddenly, I had Christians appearing out of nowhere," he said, referring to fellow art students who were Christian, but he had not noticed before.

Many hard things followed as God ultimately placed him in a corner. After a painful surgery in December 1973 he made a list of resolutions for the new year. Unfortunately, his will power had the strength of wet toilet paper and within a week he despaired of living the life he knew was right. Ron visited from West Virginia and after much talk and prayer, Ed asked Jesus to forgive him for his sins and come into his life.

"At that moment, it seemed like I heard the Lord say, 'Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.' And in that same moment God gave me a deep peace in my heart," Ed said.

Unfortunately Ed was not prepared for the months ahead because he had no real Biblical understanding. He did not know how to deal with his guilt and shame when he yielded to temptations, as if he were the only one who ever failed. It is interesting that despite these failings, there were people whom the Holy Spirit touched through his witness, faulty as it was.
When Ed graduated from college, however, he was exceedingly depressed, both by his failings as a Christian and the uncertainty of where to go with his life. He'd already decided to stop going to church, and spent many hours in the back yard staring at the sky.

The family next door had teens who had become deeply entangled in the drug scene, some of them junkies who regularly went to New York to shoot smack (lingo for heroin.) Ed began to take them into the City to make their connections. Before long, Ed was invited to take participate.

Ed's last week running from God included several excursions to the City. The night before the last, without money and without prospects of getting any other kind of dope, Ed and a friend stooped to filling a bag with airplane glue, inhaling as much as they dared.

There were many details which were shared of how God incrementally hemmed him in and brought him to a place where he was open to hearing God's still small voice. After reading an Ann Landers column in which a reader asked what the worst ten drugs people were doing (Ed had done nine, and five that week) he went up to his brother's room and experienced a profound despair. In the room, the Lord got his attention in a miraculous manner, and said, "I will never fail you or forsake you."

Ed's heart broke at this revelation of a merciful God. He then shared how he had no interest in going through the same ordeal again or failing God and running, and how someone said that the only way to stay on track is by getting into the Word and renewing your mind, a commitment he made and kept, God being his help.

In closing he asked the following questions...
1. Are you moving toward the light or away from the light? Inwardly…. What’s going on in the inside will eventually show up in your behavior on the outside.
2. Does the life you project correspond with the person you are on the inside?
3. If you want to feel meaningless, do meaningless things. If you want to have a deeper sense of meaning, think about how your actions contribute to the greater good of your families, church, community and world.
4. The Bible is the Revealed Word of God. If you have doubts about the Bible being the unique and fully authoritative Revelation of God and need help in this area, you should talk with Pastor Brad, but I will do whatever I can to help you settle this question, because it’s probably the most important issue in your life.

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