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Awakened to the Messiah

with Randy Newman | April 2, 2012

Are you burdened by an unbelieving family member? Author Randy Newman talks about reaching your loved ones for Christ. Randy remembers his own conversion from Judaism to Christianity, and recalls how he pleaded in earnest with his parents to trust Christ for themselves for decades with no success.

Are you burdened by an unbelieving family member? Author Randy Newman talks about reaching your loved ones for Christ. Randy remembers his own conversion from Judaism to Christianity, and recalls how he pleaded in earnest with his parents to trust Christ for themselves for decades with no success.

Awakened to the Messiah

With Randy Newman
|
April 02, 2012
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob:  As a college student, Randy Newman had other priorities than trying to figure out the meaning and purpose of life.

Randy:  For a full year-and-a-half—it was either, laughing at it—watching the crazy movies, getting drunk—or really wrestling with, “What is the point of all of this?”  It all seemed so absurd!

When this friend of mine died, in the middle of my sophomore year,—that was sort of the siren call of, “Okay.  It’s time to make some decisions.  Was Jesus really Who He said He was?  Is the Christian explanation about life coherent or is life absurd and meaningless?”

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 2nd.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Randy Newman’s wake-up call his sophomore year turned out to be more than a wake-up call.  It was a new life call for him.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  You know, holidays like Christmas or Easter, when they come along, can be a time that we look forward to; but oftentimes, if you’re going to be getting together with family members and if family members don’t know Christ, that holiday can be something that there’s some anxiety about.  You want to communicate your own faith in Christ, and yet you want to make sure your relationship with your family stays intact.  Sometimes that turns into a burden that can put a damper on the holiday.

Dennis:  It does!  A lot of our listeners are burdened by family members who don’t know Christ and who don’t share their religious convictions—core convictions—about the Scriptures, about Jesus Christ, His work on the cross, the empty tomb.  When they get together over family holidays or celebrating an anniversary or a birthday, there’s a sense of loss.  It’s not that we want to shove something down a family member’s throat.  We really desire to introduce our family to the One that we love the most, Jesus Christ; but it does represent one of the biggest challenges in sharing our faith with anyone that we’re ever going to face.

I’m glad that we have the author of Bringing the Gospel Home:  Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well.  Dr. Randy Newman joins us on FamilyLife Today.  I’m emphasizing Doctor because he’s in the process of getting it.

Bob:  You’ve just gone ahead and conferred it on him right here.

Dennis:  I just want to just declare it.  It’s done, Randy!  Welcome back to the broadcast.

Randy:  Thanks!  It’s great to be with you, and thank you for that doctorate.  I’ll see if the academic community will accept it.  (Laughter)  I’ll take it any way I can get it; thanks!

Dennis:  Randy is a fellow staffer on Cru® staff—formerly, Campus Crusade for Christ.  He has served for more than three decades with college students—most recently, I guess, in Washington, D.C., with a number of colleges there—faculty members, students, staff members.

He has had a burden for evangelism because of being on staff.  That’s a good place to express it; but I want to go back to your own personal faith, Randy, and how that was developed—or wasn’t developed, maybe better stated—in the family you grew up in.

You grew up in Long Island, New York; right?

Randy:  Right.

Dennis:  What did you learn about God from your family?

Randy:  Well, I grew up in a Jewish family.  I learned a lot about God, totally from the Jewish perspective—celebrating Jewish holidays, going to Hebrew school, in addition to public school.  I certainly never heard anything about Jesus, growing up.

God was very important to me, but God also seemed really distant from me.  I really wrestled with that for a while.  When I got into high school, I met some Christian friends who said that probably God did seem distant from me for a good reason because of the fact that my sin had separated me from God.  They shared the Gospel with me.  That started, for me, a long process of wrestling about, “Who is Jesus?” and, “Why would a Jewish person ever believe in Him?” and those kinds of things.

Dennis:  When you were growing up, did your mom and dad read the Scriptures?  Did they read the Torah out loud in your home?

Randy:  No.  No, my parents were not very religious, but they wanted their sons to get training in Jewish faith.  I’m not totally sure why, but I think that is a very common thing.  It certainly was a common thing back then in the 1960’s and later.  I ended up taking Judaism more seriously than the rest of my family—certainly than my parents.  I was really, I think, searching and trying to connect to God; but He always seemed distant.  In fact, I have a pretty vivid memory--when I was 15.  I decided that on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, that that was the year I was going to finally get it right and finally get right with God!  I was going to obey all of the commandments, and there were a lot of them with Yom Kippur.

I walked to synagogue instead of riding in the car.  I went the evening before and the whole entire day of Yom Kippur.  I did all of the prayers.  I confessed all of the sins—they give you a whole list to confess.  I confessed them all, even ones I didn’t understand; but I figured, “Who knows?  Maybe some time this past year I might have committed it.”  As I was walking home at the end of the holiday, watching the sunset, I remember thinking, “God doesn’t seem any closer now than 24 hours ago.  What did I do wrong?  What didn’t I do right?”  I mean, “Come on!  I fasted”—you don’t eat on Yom Kippur—I only drank water.  “I did everything you’re supposed to do.”

As I was walking home, I looked down and I see that I am wearing leather shoes—dress shoes.  I am wearing a suit and dress shoes. I remembered there was this kind of obscure, rabbinic rule—not in the Scriptures, but a rabbinic rule that you’re not supposed to wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur.  I remember thinking, “That’s what I did wrong!  I wore the wrong shoes!  That’s why God still seems distant.” 

Then, I thought, “That’s the stupidest thing in the world.  You’ve got to be kidding me!  That’s how you get to know God—by remembering every single, minute detail, ‘Do this.  Don’t do this.  Wear these kinds of shoes”?  I remember thinking, “There’s got to be some other way!”  I don’t remember praying; but I think it was a prayer of, “God, You’ve got to show me some other way to know You, other than remembering these billions of rules.”

Bob:  Was there something that took you from that place of, “There’s got to be something more,” to a place of beginning to investigate that?

Randy:  You know, I look at it now—and I think the answer to that prayer was this friend of mine, inviting me to his church youth group.  He was inviting me simply because there were lots of fun things and the girls were cute.  That’s why I went.  He was right!  (Laughter)  They did lots of fun things and the girls were cute!

Dennis:  You were how old at the time?

Randy:  Sixteen—15 or 16.

Dennis:  Right.

Randy:  I did lots of fun stuff with this youth group.  We went roller skating.  We went to the beach.  We did all sorts of different things, but they also wove their faith into everything that they did.  They prayed about everything.  I remember one time we were getting on the church bus, going to the beach—this was on Long Island, near the beach.  The bus leaves the church parking lot and somebody stood up at the front of the bus and said, “Okay everybody, let’s pray!”  I thought, “Pray?!  We’re going to the beach!”  The person at the front said, “We pray, Lord, that we’ll have a fun time at the beach and that nobody will get badly sunburned and that the bus won’t break down.  In Jesus’ Name,  Amen.”

I thought, “These people are crazy!  You don’t bother the Almighty with things like sunburn!”  (Laughter)  “Unless”—and then the gravity of it hit me—“unless you really know Him!  Unless you know God in the kind of way that you can talk to Him about sunburn, or the bus breaking down, or anything.”

Dennis:  Yes.

Randy:  I’m pretty sure that my experience was similar to what Paul talks about in Romans 9, 10, and 11.  I got jealous!  These Gentiles knew God better than I did. 

Dennis:  They did a good job of relating to you?  They didn’t point their bony fingers and tell you that—or condemn you to hell, in a judgmental spirit?

Randy:  Not at all, but they didn’t back off either.  They talked about the fact that Jewish people should believe in Jesus, too.  Jesus was Jewish.  His disciples were Jewish.  The New Testament was written, for the most part, by Jewish people—those kinds of things that really shook me up because, I think with a lot of other people, I would say, “I’m Jewish,” and that would kind of end the discussion; but they were a group that said, “Well, so?”  That started me questioning, and digging, and eventually reading Matthew’s Gospel and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.

 

Bob:  Did your mom and dad have any problem with you hanging out with the boys and going to the beach with them?  (Laughter)

Randy:  I don’t think so.  You know, they really prided themselves on being open-minded.  That was in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  The world was kind of crazy and lots and lots of people were getting involved with drugs.  Probably lots of my parents’ peers had kids who were so messed up that, “Well, if the worst that Randy is doing is hanging out at the church youth group, it could be a whole lot worse.”  I don’t know, to be honest.

Bob:  Well, when you started reading Matthew and C.S. Lewis, and God started to stir in your life, tell us what happened.  I also want to know what happened when you went to mom and dad and said, “Hey, guess what I found?”

Randy:  Well, I didn’t go to mom and dad and tell them what I found until much later.

Bob:  Okay.

Randy:  What I found, in reading, was that this was a totally different religion than I thought it was going to be.  I thought it was going to be anti-Semitic.  I thought it was going to be very non-Jewish—totally different way of thinking.  I really thought I was going to find that Jesus was a good guy, a nice guy, a good rabbi who taught some things about love.

What I found was, actually, that this book was remarkably Jewish.  Matthew quotes the Old Testament all over the place and says that they fit together.  It was a very Jewish style of ministry.  It felt like the Old Testament and that Jesus made ridiculous claims about Himself.  He wasn’t just this good teacher who taught some nice things.

He taught radical things, all about Himself, by the way.  He made these amazing claims to have been God, to have always existed, to be the Messiah.  He wasn’t just a good rabbi.  That’s where C.S. Lewis’ argument really drove it home for me.  Either this guy really is God Himself in the flesh—the Messiah, the One Who fulfills all these Jewish prophecies—or He’s crazy!  Lewis’ statement of, “We can fall down at His feet and worship Him or write Him off as a lunatic.”

Dennis:  In the process of reading Matthew, Jesus summarized all of the Old Testament and all of the Law and the prophets through the Great Commandment to “love God and love your neighbor.”  Do you remember reading that for the first time and hearing this authoritative rabbi is making such a summary statement of all that you had read about?

Randy:  Yes, it was as if things that were isolated were now fitting together.  Things that just seemed arbitrary all started fitting together.  Then, very early on, after coming to faith, I met an older Jewish man who was a believer.  I read about, and celebrated Passover, and saw all of these traditions just culminating in the ultimate Passover.  That began to open of how these things were foreshadowings of the fulfillment in the Messiah. 

Bob:  It sounds like that point in your sophomore year, when you came to faith, was the culmination of a process; but was there a catalytic event that brought you over the line?

Randy:  Well, there was a tragic event, I’m sorry to say.  A friend of mine in college died in a very tragic accident; and up until that point, you know, I was wrestling with some of these religious things.  I was also wrestling with a lot of stuff I was learning in college, which was pretty absurd existentialism.  My whole first year of college was reading a lot of existentialist literature, watching a lot of Woody Allen movies, and drinking a lot of beer. 

Bob:  That’s a combustible mixture right there!

Randy:  If life is really as absurd as the existentialists say it is, then getting drunk is not just recreation—

Dennis:  —and Woody Allen makes sense.

Randy:  Yes, that’s right.  I’m afraid so!  (Laughter)

So if life really is that absurd, it’s probably best to do whatever you can to mask it and laugh at it.  If you don’t, you’re really going to be despairing.  I really did bounce—for a full year-and-a-half—it was either, laughing at it—watching the crazy movies, getting drunk—or really wrestling with, “What is the point of all of this?”  It all seemed so absurd!  Having some Christian friends who said, “No, life isn’t absurd.  It does make sense”—

When this friend of mine died, in the middle of my sophomore year,—that was sort of the siren call of, “Okay.  It’s time to make some decisions.  Was Jesus really Who He said He was?  Is the Christian explanation about life coherent or is life absurd and meaningless?”

Bob:  You know, I’ve said to my boys just exactly what you’re saying.  Over the years, as they grew up, and as they were reading Nietzsche, and they were reading Kierkegaard, and they’re reading the existential writers, I said, “You know, honestly, you can read all of the philosophers; but if there is no God, Nietzsche’s right.  The right way to live is in response to absurdity, “Live an absurd life”; but if there is a God, that changes everything.”

That’s exactly what you were experiencing and finding out; right?

Randy:  Right.  It also makes you re-read the book of Ecclesiastes in a different light.  If you take a look at reality, either it is absurd, and pointless, and meaningless, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”—or there is a God behind all of this and knowing Him is the point of all of life—“It’s wonderful, and it’s joyful, and it’s meaningful.”  The contrast is really stark. 

For me, midway through spring semester of sophomore year at Temple University, was all of this coming together with a big, “Thank You that Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins.  Jesus is the Messiah.  Life is not absurd and meaningless.”

Dennis:  Was there a moment you look to where you stepped over the line, Bob was talking about, and you said, “I believe, and now I want to become a follower of Christ.  I want to be baptized, and I want to embrace others who are also following Christ”?

Bob:  “I’m in!”  Was there an, “I’m in” moment?

Randy:  Well, I remember the culminating moment, but that was probably after all sorts of other things happened.  The culminating moment was when I sat down and wrote my parents a letter, telling them what I believed.  As you might guess, that was followed with a phone call.  I believe they made the call.  (Laughter)  It was a tense phone call.

Bob:  Do you remember the conversation?

Randy:  Oh, yes!

Dennis:  Were they angry?

Randy:  No, they were truly open-minded and liberal.

Dennis:  Disappointed?

Randy:  I think very!  (Laughter)  I told them that now I was a Christian, and I thought Jesus was the Messiah, and that I believe the Old Testament and the New Testament fit together.  My mother said, “Well, if that’s what makes you happy.  We just hope that you won’t—”and they had three statements.  One was, “As long as you don’t shave your head, join some crazy commune in Colorado—they said Colorado—and, “that you don’t go try to change the world.” 

Dennis:  Well now, what about telling other family members?

Randy:  Yes, eventually came, “Don’t tell Grandma and Grandpa,” and, “Don’t try to push this on your brothers,” especially my younger brother.  My younger brother was six years younger.  That was my sophomore year—so I was 20, and he was 14.  They were more concerned about the shaving the head and the doing the commune thing.

Bob:  And the “changing the world.”  It’s interesting that they didn’t want you to try to go change the world.  So you joined a movement where the founder is saying—

Randy:  “Come help change the world!”  (Laughter)  And, “Let’s gather every other year in Colorado.”

Dennis:  Colorado!  (Laughter)

Randy:  I love it!

Dennis:  Here’s my question for you, “After that pursuit—from the time you were a boy, beginning to feel distant from God—how did that process of becoming a believer in Jesus Christ—placing your faith in Him, surrendering to Him—how close did God come?”

Randy:  Oh, all of that angst, and longing, and thinking that God is far away—it was, “Oh, no!  He’s right here.  You can talk to Him anytime.”  I think the most joyous moments, starting then and still to this day, I would read parts of the Old Testament and just see it fulfilled in the New.  It all fits together.

These are not two alienated books—they are woven together.  In fact, I’d even go so far as to say I don’t think we can make sense of the New Testament if we don’t really understand the Old Testament.  We can’t make sense of the Old Testament unless we see it fulfilling.  It’s a very frustrating, incomplete, unresolved book—the Old Testament—unless we see it culminating in the cross.

Dennis:  And Jesus said in John, Chapter 14—He said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Someone who’s been listening to us for the past few moments—introduce them—introduce God to that person, just like you came to faith.

Randy:  Well, He is Who He said He is.  He did what He said He did.  He died to pay the price for sin.  The reason we feel distant from God is because we are!  He is distant because our sin has made a separation between us and our God.  That’s what Isaiah, the prophet, said.  His death on the cross pays the price so that distance doesn’t have to be there anymore.  What we need to do is to say, “Yes!  That’s what I want to trust in—not in my abilities to do this, or do this, and wear the right shoes.”  But it’s to say, “Yes!  You died to pay the price for my sin.  I want to trust in that payment for my sins so that I can know this God and enjoy Him forever.”

Dennis:  It’s really that simple.  It’s just receiving a free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Randy:  Amen!

Dennis:  He meets us right where we are. 

Bob:  You know, we have, on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, a link that says, “Two Ways to Live.”  I would encourage our listeners to go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on that link.  Explore and look at how you’re living your life, and see whether it matches one way or the other way, especially if you don’t know God.  If you don’t have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on that link.  Spend some time just thinking about your life, where you are, and where you ought to be.  Is it time for that point of surrender for you?

Again, the website is FamilyLIfeToday.com.  If you are interested in beginning a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we’d love to send you a book called Pursuing God.  You can request that online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call us toll-free at 1-800-FL-TODAY.   It’s free—there’s no obligation.  Just ask for the book, Pursuing God, when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call us toll-free at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”. 

While you’re on our website, check out information about Randy Newman’s book, Bringing the Gospel Home, especially if this has been a challenging area for you and your family—you know Christ, family members don’t.  This would be a great book for you to read—Bringing the Gospel Home by Randy Newman.  Order a copy from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call to order at 1-800-358-6329.  That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”. 

Now, last week, we mentioned a brand-new devotional book that Barbara Rainey has written for families called Growing Together in Forgiveness—seven stories about the power of forgiveness—the gift of forgiveness.  This book is designed to be read aloud at the breakfast table or at the dinner table with stories that will engage members of your family at every age.

This week, we want to make a copy of Barbara’s new book available to any of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation.  All you have to do is go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and click the button that says, “I Care”; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation over the phone.  When you do, ask about receiving a copy of Barbara Rainey’s new book, Growing Together in Forgiveness.  It’s our way of saying, “Thanks for supporting the ministry of FamilyLife Today.”  We are listener- supported.  If we didn’t hear from folks like you, this daily radio program wouldn’t continue.  We appreciate those of you who step forward from time to time to help support the ministry.

Again, you can request a copy of Barbara Rainey’s new book, Growing Together in Forgiveness, when you make a donation this week.  Either call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation and ask about receiving a copy of the book; or donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com.   Click the button that says, “I Care”; and we’ll send a copy of the book out to you automatically.

Let me encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow.  Randy Newman’s going to be here again.  We’re going to talk more about growing up in a Jewish home.  We’re going to talk about the Passover, and other aspects of Jewish life, and how all of that changed for him when he became a follower of Jesus.  I hope you can be here for that.

 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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