My guest this week is my good friend Joanne Sher. I met her at Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference last year. When she mentioned this date was her spiritual birthday, I knew she needed to be my guest today! I think you’ll enjoy her story of how she came to faith in Jesus Christ.
I didn’t know much about Christianity as a kid.
Why should I? I was Jewish, Bat Mitzvahed at 13, born and raised in the L.A. suburbs. Though my high school wasn’t closed for Jewish holidays, a quarter of the students were absent for the High Holy Days (The Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement). My father was raised as an orthodox Jew; my maternal grandfather was a former cantor; my great aunt still kept kosher.
My Jewish roots ran deep.
It probably didn’t help that my first recollection of a church was negative. I was nine or so, and we were visiting my aunt and her family. The pastor saying something disparaging about Jews during his sermon and I ran out. I still don’t remember what he said, but I didn’t enter another church for a decade.
By then, I was in college. My Catholic boyfriend brought me to Mass. I looked up front at the crucifix, and felt extremely uncomfortable. I kept my eyes down for the rest of the service.
I had other minor “encounters” with Christianity, but it wasn’t until I was married and living in the Midwest twelve years later that that cross grabbed my attention again.
My husband was nominally Jewish and we both followed our faith for a while. We soon stopped attending synagogue, however, neither of the local ones being to our liking. We still celebrated the major holidays, but nothing more.
I was working as a freelance writer for the local daily paper, and the religion editor had taken a liking to me, so I was writing for him. One day, he called and asked if I would cover a Christian women’s conference the following Saturday. I agreed skeptically, assuming it would be a bunch of fake, mushy women screaming “Hallelujah” and praising God for their wonderful lives.
Was I ever wrong.
The moment I walked into the arena, I felt a camaraderie among the women there, and a peace I simply couldn’t explain. The speakers, who I normally would have dismissed as hokey, resonated with me, and I felt myself filled with the same camaraderie and peace as those around me. I didn’t want to leave.
Unfortunately, I had no choice – I had a deadline to meet! And, as I left the building to walk the three blocks to the newspaper office, I felt that peace leave me just as suddenly as it arrived.
A myriad of questions ran through my mind.
What did those women have that I didn’t?
Could I find that kind of peace in Judaism if I was more devout, or was this a Christian phenomenon?
I decided I needed to start this quest of mine with my own faith. I found my English copy of the Hebrew Bible and read the entire Old Testament from beginning to end in two weeks. I also typed out about 20 pages of notes.
That fortnight brought several things to light, including my lack of obedience to God’s laws, and the emphasis throughout the Old Testament on vengeance and justice.
I knew what I had to do next. I began reading the New Testament. And there, it seemed, were answers to all my questions, comfort from all my fears. I finished the NT in another week, and added another dozen pages of notes to my collection.
Yet, I had some serious misgivings. I saw Jesus as a wonderful man, someone to emulate, but as God? As Messiah? My Jewish background and teachings were digging at me – “God is One,” “Christ was a Jew-hater,” and other mantras reverberated in my mind. I MIGHT be able to accept Jesus as Lord, but Savior?
Still, I started attending a Bible-believing church, and began reading the Bible through again. I got many new revelations on the Old Testament the second time through, but none as monumental as the one I received about five months after the women’s conference (fifteen years ago TODAY), from Isaiah.
But he was wounded because of our sins,
Crushed because of our iniquities.
He bore the chastisement that made us whole,
And by his bruises we were healed.
Isaiah 53:5 JPS
There it was, in black and white – in the Hebrew Scriptures. My Messiah loved me so much that He was voluntarily wounded and crushed for my sins. I could not be pleasing in God’s sight on my own. He willingly took on excruciating punishment so I could be whole. His bruises on the cross healed me.
And now I am His.
Joanne Sher is a Jew by birth, a Christian by rebirth, and a children’s writer by gift. A native Southern Californian, she now lives happily in West Michigan with her husband and two school-aged children. In addition to writing, she is also a freelance editor, the blogger at the FaithWriters blog, and posts monthly at Jewels of Encouragement, The Barn Door, and Internet Cafe Devotions. Visit her at www.joannesher.com.