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That Book


At this point I will jump way back in time, to before the attack on Reinhard, in May, 2006, so that I can tell a little more about myself and my family, and about events that led up to the attack on Reinhard.

I first learned of the Jesus Christians in the winter of 2004, toward the start of the year.  I was sixteen years old, and a sophomore at Serra High School in Gardena.

It was early evening; my mother had just returned from the grocery store. She said she had a book she wanted me to read, which dealt with Bible prophecy.  Sheila knew that I had a keen interest in the topic.  

I asked her a bit more about the book. She said she had bought it from a guy selling them outside the store.  The guy said she could give a dollar, a few quarters, or even two cents for the book!  He didn't care about the money; he just wanted her to read it.

Sheila thought about it, and then thought of me.  She figured it was something I would enjoy reading, and decided to give the guy a buck for the book.  I'm sure she regrets that decision to this day.

School was in session, so I couldn't give the book my full attention.  But I was keen to get to it.  I was intrigued by the guy's willingness to give the book away for only two pennies.  I looked at it, and could see it was worth ten dollars or more in a bookstore, especially a Christian bookstore.  Why would anyone give away something worth so much, virtually free of charge?  This added to my interest in finding out what the book had to say.

I was also impressed by the author's name on the front cover. The book was called Survivors, and it said that it was written by 'Zion Ben-Jonah'.  Zion Ben-Jonah was a pen-name used by the real author, Dave McKay. It was a spin-off of Zion Ben-Judah, an important character in the Left-Behind series, which Survivors was supposedly an answer to.

Dave shared his real name at the start of the book, explaining the pen name.  I took Dave's decision not to put his own name on the front cover as a sign that he was more interested in promoting the book's message, than in promoting himself.  That, too, was unusual in the religious circles that I had been raised in.

I read the book whenever I could.  Unfortunately, our basketball team was in the playoffs, so my mind was focused more on that at the time.  I was starting to get disillusioned with the team, though, as the political nature of the game had started to reveal itself.  I had been playing organized basketball for twelve years, since the age of four.  But I could now see that most people were only interested in playing basketball to make money.  They were not motivated by a real love for the game.

After school, and on bus rides between games, I would read Survivors whenever I had a chance.  The book was fantastic, and I couldn't help but share my enthusiasm about what I was reading. Here I was finally getting an understandable picture of what The Revelation might look like in real life. I couldn't get enough.

Hoping that they too might be inspired by what I was reading, I shared my interest with my family.  Jared, John, and Josh showed no interest at all.  Spiritual things were of little concern to them, and so they felt no need to pretend.  Sheila, however, was different.

Sheila read bits of the book with me, and we shared about what I was reading. She considered herself a seriously dedicated Christian, and she was interested in being a part of what I was learning. That would soon change, however.

When our basketball season was over, it gave me time to move ahead with reading Survivors.  I remember feeling sad as I reached the end of the book.  Here I had been given all this powerful information, but had no idea where to go for further fellowship and guidance.

Then I saw the website in the back of the book.

I visited it as soon as I got a chance.  Jared had connected with the internet on our family computer a few months earlier, so I was able to visit the site without leaving home.  What I found was challenging.  Much I agreed with, like talk about faith, and love.  But other parts challenged me in areas where I was not prepared to be questioned.   Mostly it had to do with my own feelings of righteousness.  I was already a born-again, saved Christian, I believed.  Was someone suggesting that I was not these things?  If so, I found that offensive.

By invitation, Sheila joined me as I read the website.  She too was impressed with what she was reading... at least until she came across the part which talked about money.  Before then, she had seemed as keen as me about Bible prophecy, wisdom, and the other things we were reading.  But when we reached the part about money, things changed.  Sheila then told me to watch out, as the Jesus Christians might be a ‘cult’.  I stopped sharing with her what I was reading from that point on.

As I think of it now, it's interesting how easily the 'cult' word springs up when someone finds a teaching in any group that they disagree strongly with.  Instead of dealing directly with the teaching, they just say, "It's a cult!" and that is the end of any meaningful conversation about what the group actually believes.  Certainly Sheila was acting like that with the Jesus Christians.  She had used the 'c' word and that was the end of it.  All rational discussion flew out the window.  From that day to this there has been virtually no meaningful conversation between my mother and myself, at least not about anything spiritual.

Near the end of this, my sophomore year, I was invited to the Nike All-American Basketball Camp, in Indiana.  They would fly me out for the camp in July, and we would be fed and housed at a hotel rented out for the event.  The goal was to show off our stuff for the university scouts who would be there, keen to offer scholarships to the best high school players from across the country.

At 5'10", I was short for a basketball player, even at point guard.  It was imperative that I be as quick as possible, or I would never survive on the court; so I purchased a weighted belt, which I walked around with at school to increase my strength.

I strove for improvement both academically and on the court during the day, but I switched my focus back to the teachings of Jesus in the evenings after school.  I studied the website religiously, reading the hundreds of articles and other material available there.  What the Jesus Christians were saying about Luke 14:33 particularly bothered me.  In that passage Jesus says that you have to forsake all your possessions to be a Christian.  The JCs were saying that Jesus meant for people to take this literally.  This was something I had never heard any church preach before, and I reacted against it.  After all, if the Jesus Christians were right, then I wasn't even a Christian.  I was not open to considering such a possibility.

As I continued to read through the website, I found myself hoping to find something which would prove the Jesus Christians to be wrong.  If I could find it, then I believed that I could dismiss the other things they were preaching as well, and do so with a clear conscience.

I checked out the Rick Ross hate site too.  Rick Ross was a former jewel thief, partly responsible for the deaths of members of the Branch Davidian sect years ago in Waco, Texas.  He had set himself up as an authority on ‘cults’, and had stuff on the Jesus Christians on his website.  There was a lot of hateful stuff being said, but little or no evidence to support any of it.

Then I switched to searching through the links section on the Jesus Christian website itself, hoping to find an alternative to the Jesus Christians, something that would not be quite so hard to swallow.

Apart from forsaking all, I struggled with the Jesus Christian teaching that one could not work for money and serve God at the same time.  There had to be some paid jobs which one could do as a Christian.  I was definitely looking for someone who would tell me what I wanted to hear.

In the Jesus Christian links, I eventually came across what was known as Grace and Truth Ministries, run by Tim Spiess.  (I later learned Tim had come up with many of his ideas from stuff that the Jesus Christians wrote, but he, too, had baulked at some of what they taught.)  Tim was saying that there were a few jobs one could do for money, and still be a Christian.  These included things like carpentry, tent-making, and home-building.

Though Tim's list of jobs did not include playing professional basketball, it at least left more options open than what the Jesus Christians seemed to be offering.  Tim's rules for Christianity were more respectable, I felt, and that attracted me to what he was saying.

I made contact with Tim, hoping he would be the alternative that I was seeking.  But he told me something which, in some ways, was worse than what the Jesus Christians were saying.  He said straight out that I had to quit basketball if I wanted to follow Jesus.  No one had ever told me such a thing before.  Tim argued that if Jesus wanted His followers to play sports, He would have given us an example of this in His life.  He said Jesus could have dominated the Roman arena games when He walked the earth, being the Son of God and all. But Jesus did not get involved with such worldly affairs, and so, he said, neither should I.

Tim's words hit me hard. Did I really have to give up basketball if I wanted to be a Christian?  What the JCs were saying about working for money was still a few years down the track for me, but playing basketball just for sport was right here and now.  I thought about it seriously, and started to feel convicted.  Now that someone had told me plainly it was an immoral activity for a Christian, I had to decide whether this was truly God's will.  Basketball had been a big part of my life for more than ten years now.

Though our high school basketball season was over, I was, at that time, playing for a travel team, called Belmont Shore.  Dinos Trigonis, our head coach, was also a basketball scout.  We were one of the top teams in the country, with several players destined to play professionally in the NBA in just a few years.  

My older half-brother, John (who spent a fair bit of time outside California and away from home when I reached my teens), was now back in my life.  We had a routine going, where we would play basketball together after school, now that my high school season was over.

My body had developed a fair bit since I last played with John three years earlier.  He used to be able to beat me whenever we would play.  But now things had changed.  My game had improved.

One memory stands fresh in my mind.  We had gone over to the gym at Stevenson Park, after school, to play one on one.  We had not played head to head in more than three years, and we were both keen to see how the other's game had developed.  John was now twenty-five, nine years older than me, and a whole lot bigger.

I beat John that day, to my surprise as well as his.  Upon returning home, I told Sheila that I had finally beaten John in a game of basketball.  I was overwhelmed with excitement.  But John's pride was hurt.

The next day, John asked for a re-match.  This time we were to play at the outside courts, about a football field away from our house.  We lived across from a park in Carson, so the basketball courts were always accessible.

This time, John was determined not to lose.  He was willing to do anything, including cheat, to make sure he walked away as the winner.  It seemed that he could not bear coming home again to tell Sheila his younger brother had beaten him in another game of basketball.  John was a very good player.  He taught me the game when I was young, and it was something he wanted to lord over me.

In the end, John won the game that day.  He pushed me, fouled me, and screamed at me to intimidate me.  I had never heard him swear at me the way he did that day.  It was shocking.  He called me bad names, said I was getting the ‘big head’, and tried to make a show of me in front of the park crowd.  I was hurt.

When we got home, John rushed to tell Sheila how he had beat me this time.  He boasted of putting me in my place, and showing me who was the bigger brother. I told my mother that John had cheated.  At some point John and I started shouting at each other inside the house.  It was the first time I could remember us getting into a verbal fight, and at one point we even came close to blows.  That was a real shock for me.  And it was all over a game of basketball.  Was this the sort of thing that Tim Spiess was thinking of?

In the middle of the argument, Jared came over to intervene.  He pushed John, who was his step-son, and told John to stop messing with me.  John consented, begrudgingly.  Jared, who was not John's natural father, did not give him half the attention he gave to Josh and me, which was something John resented.

My impression was that John wanted to fight Jared (who was much shorter than him) then and there, but he knew that Jared owned the house, and if he upset Jared too much, he would be told to move out.  John was living and sleeping in the front room at the time, and it was only at Sheila's behest that he had been allowed that much.

I cried that night, knowing my relationship with John would never be the same again.  I had seen a side of him which I had never seen before, and it wasn't pretty.  Jared told me to stop crying and be a man.  I was choked up, but managed to push back the tears until Jared had left.  Then I resumed.

It would be weeks before I spoke to John again.  We were living in the same house, and I had to walk past him every morning to leave for school, but no words were exchanged. Our relationship was now officially dysfunctional, and seemingly beyond repair.

Surely basketball did have the potential to cause problems spiritually, as Tim Speiss had indicated.

Click here to read Part 9 of Joe's Story
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