Jesus Did It!
By: Michael Butler
I was born and raised an only child in Haverhill, Massachusetts. That is where people "PAHK the CAH in HAHVAHD YAHD and drink a BEEH." I learned drinking and fighting was a normal way to live. At the age of six, my parents separated due to the verbal and physical abuse in our home. One of my earliest childhood memories is going to the psychiatrist and looking at pictures of butterflies. EVERY single picture looked like a butterfly and I remember the doctor getting frustrated at me for not seeing something else. At the age of nine my parents were divorced. I was raised by my devout Catholic mom and occasionally visited my atheist dad on weekends and holidays. Growing up in a broken home was sad and difficult, especially when all my friends had brothers, sisters and both parents living together. I often thought, "Why can't my life be like theirs?" In my teen years I learned to drink, fight and experiment with all sorts of drugs.
Shortly after graduating from High School I joined the Navy. In Basic Training, I was made Catholic Religious Petty Officer for my company due to the information given on my entrance survey which included being an altar boy. At the very first meeting everyone was talking about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or someone else I never heard of before. People and places of the Bible were foreign to me since I never read the Book. Someone asked me what I thought about the topic of discussion and I stated that I didn't know what they were talking about. I was laughed out of that meeting and never returned.
During my early days in the Navy I came in contact with Christians for the first time and they gave me the creeps. When someone asked if I was going to heaven when I die, my reply would be, "I think so. I've been christened, confirmed and have a cross around my neck." What I learned in church, worst case -- I would do purgatory before going to Heaven. Several times I let Bible Thumpers pray for me in hopes they would just finish talking and go away.
After reporting onboard my first ship I felt a great sense of emptiness; fell in with the wrong crowd, which is what I had been doing all my life and tried to fill the great void in my heart. My life spiraled out of control with excessive drinking to the point of occasionally not remembering how I got back to the ship. Making matters worse, I took various drugs, including hallucinogenic, with a couple episodes, thinking I permanently damaged my brain. Thoughts of suicide to end the madness entered my mind, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
A couple Christian Engineers I worked with, Jim and Steve, were making many of us on the ship uncomfortable with their Bible talk. I persecuted these Jesus Freaks with more vigor than anyone else on the ship; calling them names and staring them down at every opportunity. I was a modern day Saul of Tarsus.
Working in the PIT or the HOLE, as we affectionately called the boiler and engine rooms, was very hot and dirty work with extra long hours. This is where I learned to be mean and hateful, cuss and fight more than ever in my life. Our motto was "get tough or die." If anyone learned of your birth date, that fateful day would include getting spanked with a metal dustpan while your fellow boiler technicians held you down. When we had an issue with a fellow "hole-snipe" we settled it behind the boiler; like going behind the woodshed. Black eyes and fat lips were easily dismissed as "I fell down a ladder or stairwell."
Eventually, my life hit bottom at a shipyard in Baltimore, Maryland. I got caught up in a street fight one night with some foreigners, one of which was yielding a knife. My shipmate and I could have been killed, but I found a beer bottle in the gutter near to where we stood, broke it to make a jagged weapon and held off the attackers. In about the same week, a head-on car crash made me think about where my life was headed. My world was crashing down around me. During these troubling times, Jim and Steve were catching me alone and asked, "If they could share some stories from their little green books." As long as no one was around to see me listening, I let them read me scriptures from their pocket size bible testaments. I continued harassing Jim and Steve in front of my friends, but in private I cautiously acted differently, like Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night.
I was intrigued to hear stories concerning a blind man receiving sight and a lame man from birth being able to walk only through faith in the Name of Jesus Christ. Somehow, I put myself in those stories though at the time I didn't understand why. From what I knew, I could see and walk fine, just as I was.
One day, Steve asked me if I would like his Gideon New Testament?" I shrugged and accepted. While reading my new book with aid from helps in the front -- subjects like Depressed, Discouraged, and Lonely; I felt all of these and thought: Why didn't someone tell me about these things before? The words were like fireworks going off as I read this miraculous book. Amazingly, I was receiving answers to all of my problems.
I reluctantly approached my coolest friend, Mac, with the News. My party buddy, who I shared my most intimate secrets with said, "That stuff is fine for you, but I'm not interested. Keep it to yourself." Days later, my best friend in the entire world died in a tragic, freakish accident.
Up to this point I was still hardened to the core by life's circumstances. You could have beaten me to an inch of death and I would not shed a tear. In fact, when I got in a fight I would tell my opponent "You better kill me, or I'm going to kill you." I had no fear of anyone. To make the point, I remember a time I got in an argument with my Supervisor; he was the biggest, strongest man on the ship. I worked out daily with weights, many times in the dreadful heat of the boiler room, but Marshall worked out with every pound of weight stacked up on the Nautilus machines. During our dispute, he lost control and attempted to choke me to death. A couple engineers pulled him away and I fell to the ground gasping for air. The sailors told him he nearly had me dead. When I pulled in enough breath to speak, I exclaimed, "He's not going to kill anyone. Is that all you got?"
By this time, I wanted to quit drinking, smoking and all the other sinful habits I was hooked to, but didn't have the will power to overcome them. I repeatedly tried to stop, only falling back into the torturous rut.
One night while lying in my bunk, I could hear Jim and Steve nearby talking about sinners going to Hell or something. I was terribly convicted in my heart and became extremely disturbed. I flung my bunk curtain open and snapped, "Why don't you guys be quiet, people are trying to sleep; its 2 o'clock in the morning!"
They said, "We'll keep it down Petty Officer Butler." As they continued to share God's Word, now in a whisper, I caught myself bending my ear to hear what they were saying. I told myself, Look at you, you know you want what they have. They are the only ones on the entire ship who are happy all the time, no matter what the circumstance.
Moments later, I sincerely prayed for the first time in my life, "God, if you're real, do to me what you've done to them." The Peace of God overwhelmed me as I sensed something like oil flow from my head down to my feet, making me feel clean, white as snow for the first time in my life and I began to weep. This was MY moment, when God opened my eyes and the mystery of Christ was revealed even to me. As it is written, "Where sin abounded, Grace did much more abound."
In the morning I told Jim and Steve what happened. They shouted simultaneously, "Hallelujah; you've been saved!"
My closest partying comrades weren't so excited and told me, "Surely you've overdosed on drugs and need to see the ship's doctor, right away."
I told them "I found Jesus; He is what I have been looking for all my life!"
My old buddies said, "NO, you've become one of THEM!!!" They tried hard to persuade me to go back out drinking with them, saying I was just going through a phase and would give it up sooner or later anyways.
But, as it is written, "I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." They really got fired up when I decided to destroy my entire collection of hard rock music, breaking one cassette tape at a time and throwing them in a trash can. They begged me to give them, sell them the tapes, but I told them if they weren't good for me, they weren't good for them. II Cor. 5:17 states: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." I began listening to Dallas Holm, Amy Grant and Maranatha Music to the chagrin of all my shipmates. I was walking a NEW walk and talking a NEW talk. Like the converted Paul, the persecutor was now persecuted and considering it a privilege.
Steve would tell you I was the LEAST likely sailor to get saved on our ship and fervently prayed for me till it happened. My conversion was something that could not go unnoticed and there was a great spiritual revival on the USS Fort Snelling as many came to accept Jesus as their personal Savior. I testified to EVERYONE on the ship, ANYWHERE and at ANYTIME. It was like fire shut up in my bones. I feared no one -- to God be ALL the Glory.
I joined a church soon after being converted, was baptized and later became a Bible teacher and Prayer Leader. I shared Jesus with my mom and SHE got saved. I have a wonderful wife of 28 years; our 3 children and 6 grandchildren are rooted in the Truth (Biblical).Jim and Steve are to this day the brothers I never had growing up. Jim is now a Gideon, himself. I am giving back to God through the Gideon ministry, serving as my Camp President and testimony speaker. I started out saying "Why can't my life be like theirs?" I am a living example of the promise found in Isaiah 55:11: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. I couldn't ask for a better life than the one Jesus has authored for me. To HIM be ALL the Glory.
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"And this gospel of the
died for sinners] shall be preached in all the world for a witness
unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
(Quote from Jesus Himself: Matthew 24:14).
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