Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dan Montgomery Conversion to Jesus Christ

How can you and I participate more fully in Christ’s transformation of our lives and personalities? Jesus still transforms those who follow him. I know. My personality has needed regular tune-ups over several decades, but required a major overhaul when I met the Lord at the age of seventeen.

Las Vegas, New Mexico, was a dangerous place when I was growing up in the late 1950’s. Maybe it was a throwback to America’s wild west past. One year we had twenty-one murders, several right across from the local movie theater. That’s a lot of killing for a town of 14,000.

I started off as a gentle, curious boy. I collected stamps, flew kites and raised horned toads. I kept an old box turtle named Quonk-Quonk. But in the sixth grade, my life changed. I was sledding one afternoon when a gang of boys attacked me. Jimmy, the leader, beat me until I lay unconscious in the snow. Two friends dragged me home. Years later Jimmy went to the state hospital for murdering his father. I spent a lot of time trying to avoid getting beat up. Despite friendships I formed, a seething chemistry of dark emotions brewed within me. 

At fifteen I was beaten for the last time. A couple of gang members jumped me at lunch and knocked me out with brass knuckles. The next week I found the toughest boy in school. I asked him to teach me how to fight. We met for ten brutal sessions in the gym. The final time something inside me snapped, like a taut rubber band. I’m not going to take this anymore, not from anyone. I exploded with a vicious right fist that knocked him cold. As he went down I felt the heady surge of brute power and vengeance. Within a week I chased down one of the guys who’d jumped me at lunch and punched him out. The next day three of his buddies cornered me in an alley. I beat the leader to a pulp. The others ran.  

Suddenly I wanted to fight anyone who looked at me crosswise. When my Latin teacher threatened to send me to the principal’s office for acting up in class, I promised to destroy his car if he did. He backed down and I felt powerful. I no longer wanted to just protect myself; I wanted to prove myself. 

I started drinking on the weekends. That was like dousing a fire with gasoline. One Saturday night I was returning from a hunting trip with some friends. We came up on a motorcycle with two riders—Carlos and Julio, a couple of toughs who’d beaten me up in junior high. I shouted to Bobby, who was driving, “Pull up next to them!” Then I thrust my shotgun out the window, pulled back the hammer and put him in my sights. I raised the barrel about three inches above Julio’s head before pulling the trigger. The blast sent them spinning into a ditch where they cursed us as we roared off.

I was out of control. My parents were called into the principal’s office to hear about my drinking. My friends distrusted me. You’ve got to control your temper, I told myself. You’re turning into a maniac. I resolved to straighten up. I could control this thing. And for a while life went smoothly. 

Then, in the fall of my senior year, my girlfriend Marcia broke up with me and started dating Mike, the new guy in town. I wanted to kill him.

Mike threw a huge party at the Castaneda Hotel ballroom. Everyone was invited—except me. Getting good and drunk, I drove my Chevy over to the party. I made my way to the door and demanded to go in. When the chaperones asked to see my invitation, I went crazy. I screamed at Mike over the arms of parents who were trying to restrain me, “Come out and fight me like a man!” Only when one of the parents started to phone the police did I back off. Still in a blind fury, I jumped in my car and peeled out, tires screaming, radio blaring. 

Deep in my heart I hated what I’d become. Where was that sensitive child I’d once been? Now I never laughed or smiled. I wore a poker face and a mean stare to keep people away. I was digging a deeper and deeper hole for myself, and there seemed to be no way out.

Four nights after threatening Mike at the party, I was walking home with a half pint of vodka stuffed in my old leather jacket. I passed an old church on the corner. As I stood at the stoplight, singing reached my ears. I didn’t like churches. But a strange feeling grew in my heart—a friendly energy coming from the church, beckoning me through the doors.

The stoplight changed to green. I didn't move. The music faded. What will people say if I go in? I started to cross the street, but the tug on my heart strengthened. Suddenly I turned, walked up the steps to those big church doors, pulled one open and went inside.

It was a Wednesday evening service. Heads turned as I walked in and I knew people recognized me. My face heated up and I sat down quickly in the nearest seat. They'll probably throw me out, I figured. But instead, the friendliness that had touched me at the stoplight felt more personal, like a presence.

The reverend was talking about Christ. He said that Jesus could enter a person’s life through the heart and bring peace to every corner of that life.

Suddenly I was aware of a desperate emptiness inside, and a longing so deep I had no words for it. It consumed me. I wanted the peace God could bring. I knew that without it I would die.

After the service I went to the communion rail. I asked Christ to enter my violent heart and bring peace. I give my life to you, I prayed. When I stood up the warmth of his love flooded me. Tears streamed down my cheeks. Where emptiness had been minutes before an indescribable peace filled my very being.  And for the first time in as long as I could remember, I wasn’t afraid.

On the way to school the next morning I spotted Mike walking alone on the other side of the street. As I ran over to him he threw down his books and squared off.  

“Are you going to bust me up, Montgomery?” he shouted.

“Mike,” I said, stopping in front of him. “I want to apologize for acting like a jerk at your party.” I thrust out my hand. Mike eyed me suspiciously.

“Is this a trick?” he demanded.

“No,” I answered. “Something incredible happened last night. I still don’t completely understand it. But I don’t want to fight. I want to be friends.

Mike searched my eyes, then took my hand. “All right, Danny. I believe you.” 

That handshake was a beginning. I spent a lot of time that school year making amends to all the people I had hurt. It was hard. But the peace that had come into my heart, and my involvement in the church spurred me on. 

My conversion fifty years ago has led to the greatest adventure I could have ever imagined—following Jesus and hearing the voice of his Holy Spirit guiding me throughout my life. I've faced innumerable difficulties and had my share of suffering and life crises. But Christ's complete faithfulness coupled with my simple faith have kept our companionship warm and real.

Dan Montgomery

Now at seventy I know that in not too many years I'll cross over from earthly life in Christ to eternal life with Christ. I feel peaceful about this, even looking forward to the day I stand gazing at him face to face. I'll tell him how much I appreciate all he's done for me. And I won't forget to ask him to watch over you, my faithful reader, in your adventure of living!

God and Your Personality

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