Tale of two Disciples
DONCASTER, UK (ANS - March 13, 2017) -- I never expected to have something in common with tough-guy movie star Sylvester Stallone. But it turns out that -- in more ways than one -- we have walked the same path!
Both of us have slept at a bus stop at a rough stage of our lives, and we are both now following Jesus as the Rock1 (foundation) of our lives.
In the case of the "Italian Stallion," the journey from a bus terminal to rediscovered faith took him many years; for me it took just seven days.
Star of the Rocky and Rambo series of movies, Stallone was raised a Christian, but the divorce of his parents when he was just nine contributed to his disillusionment and, by the age of 24, he was sleeping rough and no longer living a Christian life. In desperation, he accepted an acting role in a soft-core porn movie for just $200.
"It was either do that movie or rob someone, because I was at the end - the very end - of my rope," he told Pat Robertson on the 700 Club2. He subsequently landed a number of minor roles before finally hitting the big time with the 1976 blockbuster Rocky -- the story of an underdog boxer who became an American hero.
"All of a sudden you're given the keys to the candy store and temptation abounds, and then I began to believe my own publicity... I just lost my way," he explained.
Two failed marriages followed as, by his own account, he was on a downward slope for twelve years until he finally had a prodigal son experience -- referring to Jesus' parable of the man who squandered his inheritance in wayward living, but whose father still welcomed him home with open arms.
"...I realised it had to stop. I had to get back to basics and take things out of my own hands and put [my life] in God's hands," he added.
Now he says: "The more I go to church and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to his word and having him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now. The church is the gym of the soul. You cannot train yourself. You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else."
He is now happily married to Jennifer Flavin, with whom he has three daughters.3
Like Stallone, I also once slept rough at a bus stop. It was in Edinburgh, Scotland, and my raincoat didn't provide much protection from a cold May wind. A train strike had left me stranded. I had a return ticket to London, but that was all --- apart from 90p (less than a pound), just enough for a bite to eat. The station was closed, and even the police refused to put me up for the night! It was May 13, 1972 and I was already pretty disconsolate after failing to finish a marathon for the first and only time. At 22 miles it seemed that I was stopped in my tracks as I 'hit the wall', as they say, unable to continue.
So being homeless (admittedly for one night only) contributed to a downward mood spiral. Of course I hardly slept, and was very cold. But I survived to tell the tale and when, within a week, Brian, a Christian friend challenged me over whether I had ever seriously considered the gospel of how Jesus came to give us new life, I had a very real sense that my life was going nowhere.
So when Brian quoted these words of Jesus, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full," (John 10.10) I was ready to hear that, and act upon it. I gave my life to Christ that night - May 20, 1972 -- and opened the door of my heart to him. He has since been with me through thick and thin, and my life has been a fantastic adventure.
I am so thankful for the road to nowhere, for the train that didn't run and for the bus stop that wasn't much of a shelter, but awakened my soul to a new beginning, and a greater reality.
Nearly 15 years later, I had one of many opportunities to follow Brian's example by encouraging another despairing soul to become a disciple of Jesus.
It is now 30 years since the Zeebrugge disaster, when the Dover-bound Herald of Free Enterprise ferry sank in the Belgian harbour with the loss of 193 lives. It is obviously a tragic memory for relatives of the victims, but I trust that some of them will have reached out for solace from the "God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1.3), as did a young man I met at the time.
I was editor of the Goole Times, based at the East Yorkshire port on the Humber estuary, and had called in at a pub for refreshment before resuming my long hours getting copy ready for the press.
I got into conversation with a "drunken sailor" who, it turned out, was drowning his sorrows after losing colleagues at Zeebrugge. He was very open and responsive as I shared the gospel story of how Jesus brings comfort to all who seek him. He realised how easily it could have been him - not his friends - having his life cut short by the tragedy caused by failure to close the stern doors (for car access), as a result of which the boat capsized.
I could see that he was ready to make his peace with God, so we retreated to my office, where he fell to his knees and prayed, with my help, as he tearfully asked Jesus to be his Lord and Saviour.
He was from Dover, and we lost touch, but I sensed that tragedy had turned to triumph for him as he set out on a new life with God at the helm.
2A TV news programme broadcast from the studios of CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network)
3For more on Stallone's story (and mine), see http://www.reallifestories.org/stories/1443/
Photo captions: Rocky's biggest win. (http://www.reallifestories.org).. 2) The author completes a 10K trail in the grounds of Yorkshire's Castle Howard, one of England's most treasured stately homes. (Picture: Linda Gardner). 3) Wreck of the Herald of Free Enterprise 4) Charles Gardner with his wife, Linda.
About the writer: Charles Gardner is a veteran Cape Town-born British journalist working on plans to launch a new UK national newspaper reporting and interpreting the news from a biblical perspective. With his South African forebears having had close links with the legendary devotional writer Andrew Murray, Charles is similarly determined to make an impact for Christ with his pen and has worked in the newspaper industry for more than 41 years. Part-Jewish, he is married to Linda, who takes the Christian message around many schools in the Yorkshire town of Doncaster. Charles Gardner is also author of Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com. He has four children and nine grandchildren, and can be reached by phone on +44 (0) 1302 832987, or by e-mail at email@example.com .
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