Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The Epicenter of Joel C. Rosenberg’s Life
The extraordinary story of the New York Times best-selling author who found Christ and then came to write about the great dangers of the present situation in the Middle East
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
INDIAN WELLS, CA (ANS) -- Joel C. Rosenberg is the New York Times best-selling author of The Last Jihad, The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option, The Copper Scroll, and Epicenter: How the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your World, with more than one million copies in print.
As a communications strategist, Joel has worked with some of the world's most influential leaders in business, politics, and media, including Steve Forbes, former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky, and the then former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (now Prime Minister again).
As a novelist, he has been interviewed on more than 300 radio and TV programs, including ABC's Nightline, CNN Headline News, Fox News Channel, the History Channel, MSNBC, the Rush Limbaugh Show, and the Sean Hannity Show. He has been profiled by The New York Times, The Washington Times, and The Jerusalem Post, and he was the subject of two cover stories in World magazine. He has addressed audiences all over the world, including Russia, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and Belgium.
In a recent interview, just before he was due to give his testimony in Indian Wells, California, at the Festival of Life Coachella Valley, headed up by San Diego pastor, Mike MacIntosh, Rosenberg told me that was born in 1967 “to a Jewish father and a Gentile mother.” His grandparents escaped Russian persecution of the Jews in the early part of the twentieth century.
“My parents were both raised in fairly religious homes,” Rosenberg said. “My father was brought up as an orthodox Jewish in Brooklyn, New York, and my mother came from a Methodist background. They met in 1965 and married and, at that time, they were both very lost. My father described himself as an ‘agnostic orthodox Jew’ and my mom says she was an ‘agnostic Methodist.’ It was right in the middle of the country’s counter-culture period, and they were struggling to figure out what they believed. They told me that at that time, they believed that there was a ‘god’, but they just didn't know how to know him.
“They had read the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita [a sacred Hindu scripture, considered among the most important texts in the history of literature and philosophy] and also the Bible.
“In 1973, they finally started visiting some churches, hoping that maybe somebody thee could answer their questions. One Sunday, they came across a particular church that just happened to have some young professional couples and during a meeting there, they were sharing how their lives had been changed, not by religion, but by a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Rosenberg said that he discovered later that his parents looked at each in disbelief, thinking what they were hearing couldn’t possibly be the answer to their searching.
“But still, as they heard these couples share about how Christ had transformed them in real and specific ways, my mom knew instantly that what they were saying was was true and she received Christ that day assuming my father would want to do that also, but he wasn't ready yet,” he said.
“To his credit, and wanting to support my mother, he began going to a small group Bible study with some other couples in it. He didn't believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but he figured that there couldn’t be any harm in studying his life. He had always thought that Jesus was a nice guy; a good teacher, and a moral person, but he couldn’t accept that He was God.
“But once a person claims to be God, then there are only two options: either Jesus is, who he claimed to be -- God or He isn't. My father couldn't deal with this, and so he thought, ‘Alright, if he isn't God, who did Jesus think he was?’ My father thought that if Jesus was mistaken, he would just be crazy, or he knew he wasn't God, but just told people that he was, and then that would make him a lunatic.”
Rosenberg said that, despite his misgivings, his father continued to study the life of Jesus; his teachings and his miracles, and finally decided that he wasn’t a “lunatic” or a “liar” and six months into the study he made a life-changing decision.
“He came home one day and said, ‘I believe that Jesus is the Messiah and I've given my life to him,” said Rosenberg. “I was about six years old at the time.”
He went on to say, “I have got to tell you that I wasn't thinking that this was such a great thing. I was happy for my parents, but then they started dragging us as a family, to church every single Sunday and I didn't want to go to church every single Sunday. They put me into a Sunday school class at the church they began attending and I was in there with the pastor’s son the elder’s daughter and I had no interest in it all. I didn't know anything about the Bible or Christianity, and I didn't really want to know.
“However, over the next few years, I began to watch my parents change. My father was never violent to me, but he had a volcanic temper and that began to dissipate. He started to be a kind, friendly and engaging person to me and to my sisters and also to my mom. Previously, my mother had been an almost paralyzed person with fear and anxiety and now God was beginning to give her a peace that really passed all human understanding. I knew that there was only one thing I could attribute these two positive trends in their lives, and that was their personal relationship with Jesus Christ though, I have to confess, I didn't fully understand it then. Still, I knew I could correlate their changed lives for the better to Jesus and I began to get curious.”
Rosenberg said that he eventually received Christ into his own life at the age of eight, but it wasn’t until he seventeen, and attending high school, that he went through what he described, with a smile on his face, a “mid life crisis.”
“I am sure that it was just adolescence, but the church that we were going to sort of blew up. I mean it split,” he recalled. “We left and all my closest friends were gone and I felt like God was drawing away from me. I would get angry at God and say, ‘Your Bible promises love and joy and hope and happiness, and I am not experiencing any of it. So either it’s not true, or I’m not getting it.’
“And one day, I was having a blow out session with God in my room. I was angry as I didn't have a best friend or even a girlfriend, and I didn't have any peace in my life. On top of this, my grades were slipping and I was sinking into a deep depression. I had decided to go to film school and had written a script about committing suicide. These were warning lights on the dashboard, and one night I was really struggling with God and he suddenly spoke back me. I don't know that it was an audible voice, but it was clear to me, when he said, ‘Joel, do you ever really spend time reading my Word, the Bible?’
“As a kid, I had read the Bible, though not regularly and I didn’t study it daily to make it my own. So my answer was ‘No.’ Then, the voice came again with this question: ‘Joel, do you ever spend time talking to me in prayer?’ and by now I was yelling and I again shouted out, ‘No.’ I knew that I didn’t have a personal relationship; a walk with God. I had accepted Jesus many years before, but that was basically it. Then the Lord said something that totally transformed my life. He said, ‘Joel, why would you expect to experience my blessings when you don't even really know me?’
“I could have been devastated at that moment, for here was God admonishing me, but it’s effect was just the opposite. I had been begging God to show himself and he had spoken directly to my heart. He told me simple, basic things that I should have known were true. They were: read the bible and talk to God in prayer. Those words transformed me. I was electrified. I knew now that this was true and I started studying the Word of God in a way that I had never done before and my life took a 180° turn.
“I hadn’t been a bad kid. I wasn’t on drugs or had killed anyone, but my life was to become totally different. Soon, it was filled with joy and the power of the Holy Spirit in a way that transformed me. Just as an example, one year my grades were slipping and I was retreating from kids at school, but by the next year, I was sharing the Gospel with almost every kid in my high-school and started a prayer and evangelism group. I had finally decided that I wanted fully to give my life to Christ.”
As Joel began to also embrace his Jewishness, he decided to move to Israel to study there.
“People on the campus students would ask me, ‘How can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus; that's an oxymoron.” I would say, ‘Jesus was a Jew.’ Surprised, they would reply, ‘He was?’ Then I would tell them that His disciples were Jewish and Jesus lived in Israel. They didn't know anything about this subject, so they would ask me a lot of questions and that was a wonderful opportunity to just share the answers that I had learned over the course of my young life.”
Rosenberg said that while he was in Tel Aviv, he studied Hebrew, film making and Middle Eastern politics.
“It was an extraordinary time, and something happened to me during those six months that transformed my life almost as much as coming to Christ. I suddenly realized that Israel was the center of the universe; the epicenter where God had chosen to reveal himself to the world through Jesus Christ and where Jesus Christ would be coming back again in the not too distant future to save the world and set up his kingdom. I just wanted to get to know that place and understand it because it is at the center of human history and the center of the future and it just planted in my heart a passion to know Israel and to know the God of Israel and then to make Him known.”
Rosenberg says he returned to Israel the following year and then continued to return there on a regular basis to work with some of the leaders of the country.
“I learned how to work with some of the key Israeli and Jewish leaders in the world, helping them drive their message and build bridges between Jews and Christians. So that's a little bit of how I got to this place where I am today, which is being a failed political consultant.”
He laughed and added, “I've helped a lot of US and Israeli leaders lose their elections and that’s why I went into writing fiction instead.”
Rosenberg said that his first novel was a political thriller called the Last Jihad so I asked him how he came to write it.
“Failure has a way of focusing the mind and I'd come off of ten years of political failure in Washington DC and I thought, ‘You've got to be kidding me. I'm a Rosenberg, yet I am not a lawyer, a dentist, a doctor, an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, an accountant or even a stock broker. I've got no financial genes and I can't do anything practical. I write ‘Op-Eds’ that people don't read. I write speeches people don't listen to the only thing I know how to do is write and clearly badly. But these are my loaves and fishes and I don't want to be a failure; I want to be a blessing,
“So, I told the Lord, “I want to be a servant of yours, Lord Jesus, so could you take these loaves and fishes, limited though they be, and would you break them, and bless them, and somehow feed people with them.’
“It was then that I got this idea of writing a political thriller; a Middle East-based terrorism story that would have the Gospel woven into it. I wanted it, as readers got deeper into the book, to see the spiritual temperature rise. But the problem was that I didn't know how to write a novel as I'd never written one before. I'd never even taken a class on writing a novel and I didn’t even like to read novels. So that was a problem.
“One night, however, when I gathered my wife and kid together for prayer, I said, ‘Daddy's got an idea. I want to write an evangelistic thriller that will start with shootings and assassinations and all kinds of terrorism and then lead you to Jesus.’ And they agreed that they thought that was ‘great.’ Then I confessed that I had a two-fold problem; one I didn’t know how to write novel and two, I didn’t have a story. Then I added, ‘Other than that, we're good to go.’”
Rosenberg said he then decided to read to them from Jeremiah 33, verse 3, which says, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (KDV).
“I told them that every night before bed, we were going to read that verse and they agreed that, with the problems I faced in putting the novel together, that was a perfect verse.
“I know that although I didn’t have a story, if this was of God, he would show me how to put it together.”
Rosenberg said that soon after this, the novel that began to pour out of him.
“It was January of 2001 and the first page puts you inside the cockpit of a jet plane that's been hijacked by radical Islamic terrorists,” he said. “It is coming in on a kamikaze attack mission into an American city. Now this is nine months before September 11th, 2001, and the novel leads from that kamikaze attack by radical Muslims on America to a fictional war between the United States and Saddam Hussein over terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
“As that day that horrible day unfolded, my life was changing because eventually this novel was published and people started to ask me, ‘How could you have known that this was going to happen?’ Of course I didn't know the specifics, but there are so many similarities between the Last Jihad and what happened on 9/11 and later in the Iraq war, that I was interviewed on a 160 programs in less than 60 after the novel released.
“When I was asked about how I could have known about the 9/11 attack, I would reply ‘I didn't; it just seems that way.’ They would then ask me what I thought was going to happen next and I would talk about events like that and some would ask, ‘Isn't your name Rosenberg?’ and I would tell them ‘Yes.’ Then they would ask if that wasn’t a Jewish name and again I would say ‘Yes.” Then they would ask, ‘Well, do you believe in Jesus, because you're writing about all these characters at the end of your book who believe in Jesus?’ I would again say, ‘Yes’ and would explain that I was an evangelical Christian who believed that Jesus is the Messiah.’
“That began to happen on show after show to the point in those 60 days, that I had the opportunity to share my faith in Jesus Christ with more than 20 million Americans. And that set into motion not just a novel writing career, but also an opportunity to share the love of Christ and to preach here in the United States but all over the world.”
Since then, the books have continued to pour out from Joel Rosenberg. His latest is called Epicenter which is Joel's first nonfiction book. It focuses on the rapidly rising Iranian nuclear threat, why Russia is selling arms and nuclear technology to Iran, why Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes it is the end of the world, and why Ahmadinejad is saying that the way to hasten the coming of the Islamic Messiah is to annihilate the United States and Israel. Using exclusive interviews with U.S., Israeli, Arab, and Russian leaders and previously classified documents from the White House, CIA, and State Department, Joel examines 10 future headlines that could come out of Russia and the Middle East, and does so in the light of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian eschatology (end-times theology). Epicenter has spent months on the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and CBA best-seller lists. It is currently being turned into a documentary for a major national television network.
By the end of the interview, I felt quite exhausted with all that Joel Rosenberg, who is married with four sons, and lives near Washington, D.C., where he and his wife are members of McLean Bible Church, had shared during our time together.
Note: I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
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