From Hollywood to heaven
September 1979. I had just enrolled at California State University, Northridge, about 45 minutes from the Hollywood hills where I grew up. Although I was a Jew, I knew nothing about faith. My lifestyle could be summed up in one phrase: reckless and immoral. I had one Seventh-day Adventist friend, Richard, whom I met in a health-food store in Northridge and who offered to take me to his church on a Saturday.
Two weeks later, Richard took me to the Canoga Park Seventh-day Adventist Church and introduced me to his minister, Pastor J. B. Church, who gave me a copy of the book, The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White. Who was this lady? I had no clue. I knew about Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones, John Travolta, and discos, but nothing about religion. For the past six years, starting at age 14, I had been a pot smoking, cocaine snorting, disco dancing teen. It's a miracle I survived.
With classes about to begin, I sat inside my dorm room and surveyed with disinterest my stack of first-semester textbooks, especially Statistics and Economics. Yuck! What have I gotten myself into? I chose Marketing as my major, not from careful thought or deep interest, but because my dad was a businessman. During the previous summer, I had worked in and around Hollywood as an extra in the movies, but I realized that my chances of achieving wealthy stardom were pie-in-the-sky. So I chose a business career.
My dorm room was small, like most dorm rooms: four walls, two beds, two desks, and one door into a shared bathroom. Theoretically, dormitory rooms are supposed to be places where thoughtful students energetically study textbooks, gain useful knowledge, and take practical steps toward accomplishing something in life. Realistically, they're often party holes where guys and girls mess around. Such was my life. The sights, sounds, and smells of wild living surrounded me, seeping under my door, onto my bed, into my head. I felt lonely, directionless, and confused.
Hooked by a book
There it sat: The Desire of Ages. Textbooks demanded my attention, but this volume beckoned voicelessly: Read me. For the past three months, God had been speaking to me in various ways, and His voice was getting louder. It all started with a fishing trip in the mountains when I glanced up onto a hillside and noticed the words, “Repent or Perish,” sprayed on a large rock. That got my attention. What does that mean? I wondered. Then there was that It Is Written TV program I “just happened” to come across one Sunday morning while channel surfing at my dad's condo in Studio City. A man named George Vandeman was talking about the Sabbath. Indeed, for the past three months something unusual had been happening in my life. Various circumstances had awakened my slumbering conscience, and I had begun thinking about God for the first time in my life.
I don't remember what day it was–Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday–but at some point, a wild 20-year-old Jewish college student newly enrolled in a secular university picked up The Desire of Ages and began reading the story of a Man named Jesus Christ. Ancient Jewish prophecies, Bethlehem, a holy baby, Nazareth, John the Baptist, a descending dove, parables, miracles, healing the sick, even raising people from the dead! As this incredible drama unfolded before my astonished eyes, I was hooked; hooked by a book. I had never heard any of this before.
In a short time, I had plowed through 73 beefy chapters in The Desire of Ages, which was quite amazing, for I wasn't much of a reader. Then I reached the chapter which, unknown to me, was destined to change my life. Aghh! This is serious! my guardian demon must have thought. Heavenly angels drew near. The title of Chapter 74 contained one mysterious word: “Gethsemane.” Ten minutes later, I was gripped by the mysterious account of a 33-year-old Man sweating blood among olive trees. With His face touching the dirt, Jesus prayed, “Oh My Father! If it is possible, take this cup from Me! Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours will be done.”
What's happening? I remember asking myself. Why the sorrow and anguish? Line by line, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, the pieces came together, and this is where a real miracle occurred. In spite of my drug use, addictions, selfishness, and overall spiritual deadness, I started understanding God's Word. Rays of divine light penetrated my darkened mind. An unseen Power stood by my side, right there, inside my dorm room. I lost track of time, of everything. All I saw was the Gethsemane Man. Alone in a garden, suffering for me.
Meeting the Gethsemane Man
Six paragraphs near the end of Chapter 74 brought me over the line. Because of space limitations, I won't quote them all, but here are two of them.
“Turning away [from His sleeping disciples], Jesus sought again His retreat, and fell prostrate, overcome by the horror of a great darkness. The humanity of the Son of God trembled in that trying hour. He prayed not now for His disciples that their faith might not fail, but for His own tempted, agonized soul. The awful moment had come–that moment which was to decide the destiny of the world. The fate of humanity trembled in the balance. Christ might even now refuse to drink the cup apportioned to guilty man. It was not yet too late. He might wipe the bloody sweat from His brow, and leave man to perish in his iniquity. He might say, Let the transgressor receive the penalty of his sin, and I will go back to My Father. Will the Son of God drink the bitter cup of humiliation and agony? Will the innocent suffer the consequences of the curse of sin, to save the guilty? The words fall tremblingly from the pale lips of Jesus, ‘O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.'”
“Three times has He uttered that prayer. Three times has humanity shrunk from the last, crowning sacrifice. But now the history of the human race comes up before the world's Redeemer. He sees that the transgressors of the law, if left to themselves, must perish. He sees the helplessness of man. He sees the power of sin. The woes and lamentations of a doomed world rise before Him. He beholds its impending fate, and His decision is made. He will save man at any cost to Himself. He accepts His baptism of blood, that through Him perishing millions may gain everlasting life. He has left the courts of heaven, where all is purity, happiness, and glory, to save the one lost sheep, the one world that has fallen by transgression. And He will not turn from His mission. He will become the propitiation of a race that has willed to sin. His prayer now breathes only submission: ‘If this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.'”
As I read this scene, it dawned on me that just as Jesus Christ made that key decision in Gethsemane to surrender Himself entirely to the will of His Father, even so must I make a choice whether or not to surrender my life to Him. Drugs, parties, rock music, and girls–these beckoned on one side. On the other side was my Savior, the love of God, and eternal life. What should I do? I must choose. Now. As I beheld Jesus willingly becoming separated from His Father, I made my choice, dropped to my knees for the first time in my life, said a short prayer, and asked Jesus to become my Savior.
A soothing sense of peace
I don't remember everything I said in that little prayer, but there is one thing I remember as if it was yesterday. It was the soothing sense of peace that instantly flowed into my soul. I had never felt anything quite like this before. This is better than drugs! I thought. A heavy weight was lifted. My slavery to drugs, alcohol, and nasty habits ended as a supernatural Presence entered me. I was free! Psychologists may not comprehend it, skeptics may deny it, doubters deride it, and demons despise it. I don't care. It happened to me, and no human or devil can take it from me. Hollywood faded, and Heaven moved in. I became a Jewish believer in Jesus Christ. This is the truth.
Within two weeks I found myself–through the advice of Pastor Church–at La Sierra College in Riverside, California, choosing religion as a major and enrolling myself in the ministry. One of my first classes was called, “Life and Teachings of Jesus.” Guess what my required textbook was? The Desire of Ages!
That was 27 years ago. The journey continues. My larger book, From Hollywood to Heaven, reveals many more details that I don't have time to explain here. But in a nutshell: I am now the speaker/director for White Horse Media within the Central California Conference, have written many books, pastored many churches, preached for Amazing Facts, witnessed hundreds of baptisms, produce radio and TV programs for 3ABN, Hope Channel, and other networks, am happily married to a lovely Adventist woman named Kristin Renee, and we have a beautiful two-year-old boy named Seth. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind, but now I see!” I owe it all to God's mercy.
A love that won't let go
When I was five years old, my brother Mike and I went fishing with our dad on the California coast. Unexpectedly, my appendix ruptured which, back in those days, was life-threatening. My dad drove me to a local hospital, and I was rushed into a waiting chamber near an operating room. To this day, I still remember what happened next. My dad held me as I writhed in pain in his arms. A stranger wearing a mask walked over and started yanking me away from my father. “No! No! I don't want to go!” I screamed in terror, as my little hands clung desperately to my dad's neck.
But go I must. With terrible difficulty–difficulty only a father can fully understand–my dad slowly peeled each of my tiny fingers off his neck so that the strange man could take me away. Why was I ripped out of my father's arms? So the doctor could operate, remove my appendix, and save my life. On an infinitely greater scale, that's exactly what happened to Jesus Christ in Gethsemane, and shortly thereafter as He hung on the cross. He was separated from His Father. He did it to save our souls.
I don't know what's happening with you right now. Maybe alcohol, drugs, rock music, and the flesh are pulling you down. Now you know that I've “been there and done that.” Whatever's going on, there is only one permanent solution to your difficulties; only one answer to your deepest needs. It's the Gethsemane Man. Read The Desire of Ages. Read your Bible. Read the truth.
Jesus loves you more than words can express. Why not invite Him into your heart as I did?
Steve Wohlberg is the Speaker/Director of White Horse Media. To learn more about his ministry, visit www.whitehorsemedia.com. He can also be reached at email@example.com. Mailing address: White Horse Media; 1968 N. Gateway, Suite 103; Fresno, California 93727; U.S.A. His book From Hollywood to Heaven (Pacific Press Publ. Assn., 2006) may be purchased in book form or as an audio CD through www.adventistbookcenter.com.