It was 2011. I was deeply depressed. One year earlier, I passed up an amazing opportunity with amazing people to lead a congregation that would have given me a voice to the world. It wasn’t of God, and the fellow who did take the position was, without a doubt, the right choice. Still, I was moping around my apartment, wondering what could have been.
I had no real job. We had rejoined Tiferet Yeshua as our congregation after serving several years in Jerusalem, but I was not on staff and had no fixed responsibilities. As 50 was only about four years away, I was feeling like a complete failure. There are few things worse for a middle-aged man, with lots of ideas and passion, than to wake up each morning with no place to go.
At least I could write
A few months before, I had started writing a book. Why not? I had nothing else to do. I started writing because I hated speaking events, where I only had thirty to forty minutes to share my heart. I had a 16-hour course on Messianic/Israel theology. And I deeply wanted my hearers to have all the information—not just 40 minutes of information.
So, I started writing Identity Theft. It wasn’t a novel at first. It was just a teaching book. And, still, I was deeply depressed. Honestly, I didn’t even know if anyone would ever see the book in print. I had nothing else to do with my time, so I wrote. I was thinking that I had invested my life—and the previous eight years learning Hebrew—to be here in Tel Aviv. I would walk around my house, just thinking of how to get rid of this feeling of uselessness and boredom.
During it all, God kept speaking to me. Whenever I would get depressed, He would whisper to me: The book. The key is the book. I began to believe that, if I ever actually finished it, God was going to use the book. I never dreamed I would get published, as a relatively unknown person living far outside the U.S., and planned to simply print copies.
You can’t write!
In all honesty, it took me years just to believe that I was a gifted writer. In 1991, I wrote an article for a newsletter. After it was edited, I hardly recognized it. The editor might as well have written in big red letters: YOU CAN’T WRITE!
A novel idea!
It was only after I began to write emails of our adventures in Odessa, Ukraine, that I discovered that I had a penchant for storytelling. Still, writing a novel was not even a thought. It was only after I finished writing the teaching book and was going to send it to the printer that God spoke to me. I did not realize it was Him at first. But I had this thought: Rewrite Identity Theft as a novel. Take all the teaching and write story around it.
“Sure, right, who am I? John Grisham?” It seemed preposterous. I didn’t know the first thing about writing a novel. But all weekend, it gnawed at me. Finally, a woman (who had been editing the chapters) sent me an email and said she’d had a vision of a butterfly that came out of its cocoon too soon. He never reached his full potential. She told me the butterfly was my book. It wasn’t finished.
I was so angry! But ideas for the novel kept flooding my mind. Finally, I asked my then teen-aged daughter, Danielle, what she thought. “Dad, you have to do it!” More than anyone else, she had been encouraging me as I wrote the book.
The next morning, I started writing…and writing…and writing. I was amazed at how the easily story poured out of me. And it was fun! I woke Danielle up after I had written five chapters. I asked her to listen as I read to her. And then, just when I got to a part where I hoped the reader would be moved, she burst into tears. I then burst into tears because I was amazed that she got it—and that I had written something that moved her.
Finishing on the Autobahn
I wrote day and night for the next three weeks. The final chapter came to me as I was driving down the autobahn in Germany. Elana and I were there ministering. It was so powerful that I was weeping as Elana was sleeping next to me. When we arrived at the home where we were staying, I ran into my room and began writing.
I am sure I broke every rule in fiction writing. It was like getting on a rollercoaster and having no idea which way it would turn next.
I sent the manuscript to several leaders and was stunned that several said that they could not put it down or that they read it in one sitting. But it was the endorsement of David Stern, the renowned scholar and editor of the Complete Jewish Bible, which really touched me.
“The emotional depth and immediacy evoked in this novel would be impossible in a theological tome with the same purpose. It’s a book you will want to read at one sitting, and if you’re like me, your only regret will be having to wait for the remaining two volumes of the trilogy.”
I was blown away!
And then…Destiny Image publishers heard about the book from my dear friend Paul Wilbur and offered me a contract. I was a published author. I was absolutely in shock! Just a few months ago, I was wallowing in depression and God was saying, “It’s the book.” Turn’s out, it was the book!
An Israeli finds Yeshua
Everything changed after that! A few months later, an Israeli living in the US emailed me to say that after reading the book, he accepted the Lord. He has since become a real friend and continues to grow in his faith, and minister to others. Identity Theft is now available in German, Spanish, French and we printed 4,000 copies in Hebrew that we give away for free.
I was blown away at the reviews on Amazon. More than one person said it was the best book they had read. How could that be, I wondered.
Within a few months, I became the senior pastor of our congregation and was once again full of purpose. Of course, I had committed to writing three books. It’s a trilogy. But suddenly I was living a completely different life—busy all the time. It was four years before I finished the sequel, The Jerusalem Secret, and didn’t know if I would ever get around to writing the third book.
Oh, how I wish I had the time to write like I did when I was depressed! But I am not complaining; I am happy busy in service of Yeshua.
Inspired to finish
Over the years, I had forgotten how much fun it is to write truth-based fiction. And then, just this week—at the gym—having not given it much thought for years, I got the beginning of the third book. Last night, I started writing and continued this morning.
It was been so long since I had written fiction, that I had forgotten about the rollercoaster. But, I am back on it. I don’t know if it will be a month or a year, but for everyone who has been asking when I would write the third book of the trilogy, I am happy to announce that I have started.
The point I want to make here is not that I am someone special. I am merely using the gifts God has given to me. He is the one who anoints, empowers and gives abilities according to His grace. It is up to us whether to use them or not. I want to encourage you that no matter how depressed or discouraged you are, you don’t know the end of the story. In my dark hour of depression, God asked me to do one thing—finish writing the book. I did, and everything changed. What is he asking you to do?