From Reform to Transformed Jew:     

Personal Testimony of John Lieberman, Graduate of Indiana University / Bloomington

B.S. Business Administration, 1970

M.A. in Theological Studies, Wheaton Graduate School, 1981

Liberal Jewish upbringing

I was raised in a very liberal Reform Jewish home on the Northside of Indianapolis, Indiana, and my parents belonged to the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. I attended Broad Ripple High School in the very conservative 1960’s era along with Dave Letterman (who now is the national celebrity Late Show host in New York City) and Steve Goldsmith (the former Mayor of Indianapolis).  It was not until the late 60’s during the hippie era that I really began to search for some existential and spiritual meaning to my life. Like most of my Jewish and gentile friends I just never asked any challenging thought provoking questions when I was younger.

By age 14 I had became a total non-believer in God

My father was raised in a very Orthodox Jewish home in Hartford, Connecticut, and when his job took him to Indianapolis where he met my mother, a Reform Jew, he quickly abandoned his strict upbringing. Like most secular Jews in Indianapolis we never prayed in the home or studied the Jewish Bible. As a consequence, by the time I was 14 years old, I was a total unbeliever in God. I did not believe in a personal God, life after death, or that the Bible was relevant to modern thinkers. For the next seven years I never had even a single thought about God!

My dad became a very successful real estate developer and because he was so focused in his business pursuits he did not take the time or interest to discuss any spiritual or philosophical issues of life with me. This only intensified the deep spiritual void I already sensed in my life.

I can never remember a single time during high school or later at Indiana University in Bloomington that a Christian ever tried to explain what the Bible teaches about their faith. My answer to them probably would have been, "Jews don't believe in Christ" or "I’m Jewish and we don’t need any mediator or God-man Jesus to save us". I could not, however, have given a clear explanation or biblical defense of what a Jew should believe to be forgiven of his/her sins (which in my case were many) and be found actually acceptable to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I began to see the hypocrisy in those who outwardly looked religious, but never really had any spirituality in their lives

If you are Jewish you have probably sensed some of the hypocrisy you experience once the High Holidays are over. You fast for a day on Yom Kippur and attend a service at the Synagogue or Temple saying prayers so quickly that you are not sure how they apply to your contemporary life. You then go home to a family meal and somehow think that your life has really changed. You know in the depths of your heart that your mind has not been transformed, that you still do not do all that you know you should do, and are captivated by the same selfish lusts, habits and thought patterns that you had prior to Yom Kippur. So then what must a Jew or gentile do to be acceptable to a holy God? I’ll now share my journey in the late 1960’s to find an answer to that question.

I fall in love with a Catholic girl at Indiana University!

At the start of my freshman year at IU I fell madly in love with an attractive blonde from Buffalo, New York. She was beautiful, had a nice witty personality and really liked me. I had one problem. She was Catholic! Even though I was not religious I argued with her a couple of times about what I considered to be her totally naive and superstitious beliefs such as the virgin birth and Jesus' deity. How preposterous! How could someone be so brainwashed by her church, I thought?

I knew that I could never raise my children in the Catholic faith. As a consequence, after 18 months of dating, she sensed the futility of our relationship and broke up with me.

The heartbreak of a broken relationship

My life seemed to literally fall apart without her. I then began to experiment with pot and other drugs to escape from my pain. A Jewish fraternity brother of mine, Alan, at ZBT during one of these "highs" said to me one night, "John, if you died tonight, where would you go?" I had no answer. That question led me into a search for truth and the purpose of life.

First "California" experience with the hippie culture; My first real prayer to God.

In 1969 after my junior year at Indiana, I attended summer school at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. I was taking a course in mysticism and had decided to do a term report on the autobiographical journal of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers. He was a unique mystic and visionary, and I was challenged by his opposition to the hypocrisy he saw in the Church of England at that time in the 1600’s. He suffered imprisonment and great persecution for his faith. He talked about a real relationship with God. In my 4 years at the Jewish ZBT fraternity, I had never heard anyone talk about God. We discussed sex, careers, drugs, and many of the social movements of the 60’s. We never, though, talked about how a person could experience the reality of God.

One night in my apartment, in a state of deep anguish of soul, I prayed out loud the first real personal prayer of my life, "God if you are there, deliver me from this depression and I will serve you." You see, I had prayed the Shema, "Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, The Lord is one" (Deut. 6:4) and other liturgical prayers in Temple but somehow they were not from the heart. I just knew them from memory. This time, I knew that what I said out loud was a real prayer. Even though it was short-lived, I remember sensing this calm and peace in the apartment that night.

An encounter with a woman on the streets of San Francisco that radiated God's love

A few days later I met an elderly woman on the streets of San Francisco who was talking to young people about Jesus' love. I thought she was some type of religious fanatic because I had never heard of anyone discussing one’s faith outside of a church or synagogue setting. I still listened to her because I sensed this radiant love touching me through her sharing. This was the first person who I can ever remember that actually "witnessed" to me.

Finding A new age book store

I returned to Indiana University for my senior year and met this woman who told me about this fascinating book store in a rural area right outside of Nashville, Indiana.  Nashville, a small city nestled in the closest thing Indiana has to nice wooded rolling hills, was becoming a hang out for artists and other hip people.  It seemed I was mesmerized by the abundance of books on subjects as mysticism, positive thinking, science of mind, yoga and even hypnotism.  I even remember a book that I was interested in called "The Sixth book of Moses." It's amazing how much I wanted to study the occult when I had never studied the first authentic "five" books of Moses!  Anyway, my eyes landed on a book on hypnosis.   I went on to take several courses in hypnosis and wanted to be a hypnotherapist.   I had no idea of the spiritual confusion and danger that came with studying occult mysticism.  For the next two years I read everything I could find on how to be a positive thinker, including the more popular books by Norman Vincent Peale, Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, and Dr. Maxwell Maltz's Pschocybernetics.

I graduate from Indiana University and begin selling success motivational tapes

I received my degree from IU and since I had a business background, my dad suggested that I talk with a business woman in his office building that was selling distributorships for the Nightingale-Conant corporation.  I have to admit that it was quite a shock to cut my hair, put on a suit and "reenter" the real world after living the college life of the 60's! 

As I studied these tapes and books by Earl Nightingale, I came across statements as, "The carpenter from the plains of Galilee said..." and "In Matthew it says, 'Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock ands the door shall be opened to you.' "  First of all, I had never heard about some carpenter from Galilee. And who was Matthew, I thought?  Also, I wondered who or what I was to ask for truth?" -- myself?  God?  I had never seen a New Testament and had no idea that they were quoting statements made by Jesus.  They didn't mention God on the tapes. I also had no idea that Matthew was a Jewish follower/disciple of Jesus!

I tried to market these programs for about 6 months and felt like a real failure.  I thought that if I can't be a success selling "success" program that I am listening to day after day, then I must be a real failure!  I became pretty disillusioned with continually trying to exert my will and give myself these superficial pep talks every day.  I returned the remaining tapes I had bought and the company gave me a refund.

I remember making a list of the 20 things I wanted to accomplish in life which of course included riches, a great relationship with a woman, etc.  Since these success books told me that all great leaders and successful people read the Bible, I thought that I should do that also.  God, I think, was #18 on my list.  It went something like, "I want to find a relationship with God."  Boy, God must have been so lucky to barely make my top twenty!  I just thought that it would take a lifetime of searching and studying before you could have a relationship with God.  I read where Norman Vincent Peale said that the most rewarding thing in his life was to discover a relationship with God.  I figured that he is light years ahead of me in this understanding of God stuff, so it would probably take a wayward seeker like me years to find God (as if God was lost).

I randomly switched channels on the TV and heard this amazing message!

One night in January of 1971, as I was just flipping from one TV channel to another, I heard Billy Graham. My soul was deeply moved and tears came to my eyes when he concluded his message with "Christ is the answer to your problems." I did not, though, know at that time who Christ was! I did sense that this preacher was very sincere and knew God. Unlike the Rabbis’ sermons, which I had listened to at Temple, Dr. Graham actually preached from the text of the Bible and spoke with a powerful conviction that captivated my soul.  I was into something called "Christ consciousness" but it had nothing to do with the historical Jesus and I was not sure where I might find more information about this Jesus that Billy Graham talked about.

My first visit to a church and an experience of divine healing

A month later I had an ear infection and my physician told me that I might need an operation. I then decided to attend some prayer meeting in the community. Since I had never been to any Christian service before, I just looked under Churches in the Yellow Pages and believed that God would somehow guide me to the right one for healing. It just happened to be a Wednesday night when they were having their midweek meeting. I at random picked this one congregation. The name of the church was Christian Reformed and the pastor was Gene Beerens. At the meeting one of the students from Indiana State University there prayed for me.    She began to speak in this language that I had never heard of before.    I just assumed it was some liturgical prayer language like Latin. I was healed within a few days! Again, there was this transforming power and joy I sensed in all of the studentsí lives. What was it, I thought? I had never seen such unity and love.?

First meeting with Jesus People in Gennwich Village in New York City

I continued researching hypnosis and in March of 1971 I went to New York City to investigate graduate schools in psychology and parapsychology.  A friend of mine told me that I should contact her friend, an ex-priest who lived in the area of Greenwich Village.  The day I arrived I "just happened" to meet some young Christian "hippie" types who had been sharing their faith to try and help the disillusioned ex-priest and the hippies that lived in the apartment. They invited me to a coffee house that night where many kids were sharing their "God" stories of salvation.  I was very impressed with the sincere love they had for me and the other "seekers."   At the end of the meeting they all closed their eyes and prayed as if they were talking to a real unseen person or presence in that room.  It was quite amazing.  I told them I was Jewish and then this one young student said that he was Jewish also and he believed in Jesus. I wasn't personally able to enter into their prayer because I still struggled with unbelief. 

I remember one night talking to Kenny, my best friend who was Jewish.  Somehow after all of my study in mysticism, a light turned on in my mind, and at this party I said, "Kenny, we need to believe in God."  It was as if I was on to something.  I told him that I was going to leave my job and not return to Indianapolis until I found the answer to life.  I knew that there was some experience out there that was the key to life's purpose.

Leaving my sales job to find "the answer to life" and a trek to a yoga camp.

In June of 1971 I left my sales job in Indianapolis to go and "find the answer" or find that one experience that would change my life and deliver me from this perpetual search for inner peace. A friend from Indianapolis told me about this guru from India who would be leading a seminar/retreat in Arizona.  This I had not tried before and thought that the "encounter" I was looking for would occur there.  After two weeks of lectures, meditation and some very bland food, I became quite disillusioned by the emptiness of eastern religion rituals.  There just seemed to be no life and "joy" in their lives.  I decided that the aesthetic inner contemplative life was not for me.  I left there not finding what I thought I was searching for in a yoga camp.

I meet some Jesus people and a minister from Arizona.

I continued my travels and decided to make a random stop at this nice camping area surrounding a lake.  It seemed like it was an hours drive or so from Tucson. As I was walking around the camp site I met this young couple who were in the process of getting their marriage renewed since they had been separated. When they asked what I was doing for the summer, I told them that I was on a "spiritual search" (whatever that meant). They then said that they were Jesus People.  I was quite intrigued with that expression for a name of a religious movement.  I had never heard of Jesus People before.  They seemed really nice and harmless and so I engaged them further in conversation.  They were excited about introducing me to their minister from Tucson. I then went to their camp site.

Their minister, John Casteel,  pastor of Grace Chapel, told me about many miracles of healing and transformed lives that had happened among the young people in his congregation.  I said that I was Jewish and then he told me about a Jewish girl in his congregation that accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  I was quite amazed.  Pastor Casteel asked me if I was born again. I had just left a yoga camp and wasn't interested in coming back again to this life all over again with no hope.   He realized that I associated that phrase, born again, with reincarnation.   A woman at his camp site then asked me if I was saved.  Again, I was not familiar with this biblical/religious terminology.  I knew, though,  that I needed "salvation" of some type.  He gave me a copy of a modern English New Testament, Good News For Modern Man.  I definitely need to hear some good news!  

A supernatural experience with Jesus the Messiah!

That night, while all alone at my camp site in Arizona, I reflected on what the minister said, and after reading a portion of a chapter in the Gospel of John in the New Testament (where Jesus talked about this unique relationship from eternity that he had with the Heavenly Father), for the first time in my life, I had this thought in my mind to call on Jesus. I said a simple prayer out loud and asked Jesus to come into my life. Instantly I knew that HE was alive, the same Jesus that walked this earth 2000 years ago! I knew that he had accepted me. His love flooded my life as a spiritual veil was lifted from my eyes. I knew that when I died He would be there. For the first time in my life I had actually encountered the living God as described in the Bible.

Somehow I instantly realized that God, the Creator of the universe, who had fully revealed Himself on earth in the person of the Messiah Jesus, actually knew me and had always been there for me. My main sin was that all my life I chose to ignore God and live as if He didn’t exist. I no longer had to wait for the Jewish "Day of Atonement" (Yom Kippur), because I had just received a "once for all time" divine pardon for my sins. I received a brand new start in life, forgiven of my sins.  I actually felt that my heart and soul were clean before God. It felt literally like a hundred pound oppressive weight was lifted off of my mind and soul.

I thought that I was the only Jew in the world that believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. (I had forgotten about the two other young people I had either met or heard about that were Jewish believers.) I later traveled to Denver, Colorado, to visit Arnie, a former Jewish high school classmate of mine. 

A visit to a most unique coffee house in the Rocky Mountains

For about a week I wasn't sure how to put all of the pieces together of this new life in the Messiah.  Then one night I took out this underground Jesus People newspaper that listed all of the coffee houses where believers met all around the country.  I called this one that was located way up in the Rocky Mountains about 45 minutes from Denver.   They received me that night with warmth and real love.  Prior to leaving, the leader wanted to pray for me.  The couple then placed their hands on my shoulders and began to pray in what they called "speaking in tongues."  Again, I had experienced this phenomenon.  What was it I thought?  They said that I might want to attend this international spiritual conference that was being held at The Hilton Hotel in Denver.  I did attend.

An encounter with the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh)

I later learned that one of the main speakers had prophesied that God was going to begin to pour out His Holy Spirit upon the Jewish people and many would come to faith.  The next day I met a minister from Johannesburg, South Africa, Robert Thom, who spoke with an authority that I had never witnessed before.  I knew this man was "sent from God" to tell me more about this new life I was experiencing.   He prayed over me and placed his hands on my shoulders.  All of a sudden a sensed this powerful feeling (a very conscious presence of God) that seemed to well up from within me.   I quietly began to speak to God in this most peaceful flowing language that I had never learned before.   The desire to smoke cigarettes immediately left me and I was also healed again in my body at that time.  There was no doubt that the risen Jesus was living His resurrected life through me.

Rejection by a Jewish friend and a new chapter in my life with a new family in Colorado

Later that night I told my Jewish friend, Arnie, about the reality of God and that there was no doubt in my mind that Jesus was the Messiah and that I now knew that he was living in my soul by the Holy Spirit!  This really freaked him out!   Without warning he gave me 24 hours to leave his  apartment.  I went to sleep that night and remember praying, "God, when I wake up, somehow speak to me and let me know where to go next."  I didn't know anyone in Denver and didn't know what my next step of faith would be.  I went to bed that night with this most wonderful anticipation and inner peace.  I guess I was thinking that God would somehow think all night about His plan for me and where he might send me! I was in the very infant stages of learning about how God leads His people and directs their very "steps."

God speaks to me!

As soon as I woke up it was as if God spoke in this still small voice and firmly impressed on my mind to call this family that I had met at at the World Convention of the Full Gospel Businessmen.  I guess I did know "two" people in Denver.  I finally found this piece of paper with their names, Paul & Joyce Wuthier, scribbled on it.  I immediately called them because I remembered them mentioning to me that if I needed a place to stay I could live with them temporarily.  He worked in cancer research and also held home Bible studies and was discipling some of the young Jesus people.  Wow, what a quick answer to prayer!  I had forgotten all about them. (I learned that Paul some years later left his career and became a Pastor in Aurora, Colorado).  I owe a lot to the Wuthiers who patiently helped dissciple this young Jewish man with a thousand questions.  They even directed me to a congregation called Redeemer Temple where hundreds of young people were finding salvation in the Messiah Jesus.

I meet a Messianic Jewish couple, the Urbachs.  Eliezer suffered greatly through the holocaust.

Paula and Joyce knew that I was struggling to understand my Jewish identity as it relates to Jesus, and they told me about some Jewish believers in the Messiah, Eliezer and Sarah Urbach. Eliezer, who was from Poland, had miraculously survived the holocaust and had later become a believer In Jesus. He lived in Israel and that is where he met his future wife, Sarah. I studied in their home that summer and learned more about the Messiah Jesus and the Jewish roots of Christianity.

I also had started attending for the first time in my life weekly Bible studies at a non-denominational congregation in Denver.

The Wuthiers told me about a new type of congregation in Denver that was attracting a lot of the Jesus People. It was called Redeemer Temple. Two Pastors, Jerry Schoel and Lou Montecalvo, each from different Christian religious denominations, had teamed up to start a contemporary ministry to both hippie and business people in the community.

I felt a little awkward at first going to a church on Sunday since it seemed like such a non-Jewish thing to do. The first time I walked into the service, though,I felt at home. There was a wonderful sense of joy and the presence of God filling that place. I even met another Jewish believer there. This Jewish man, Scott, eventually told me about Christ for the Nations Bible school and international ministry center which I attended that fall.

Pastor Jerry taught me my first Bible study. It was in the Torah, the Book of Numbers. As Pastor Jerry taught on the miracles of the Old testament and how the Lord revealed Himself to and preserved and protected the people of Israel in the wilderness, I realized that that God is also the God of the New Testament and He was now my God and Savior. Wow, did my view of God change overnight! I believed that God also wanted to do miracles in and through my life.

I soon learned about a ceremony in which one publicly identifies with the Jewish Messiah who died for the sins of the world and was raised form the dead. It is called "baptism." A month after becoming a believer I had my mikvah (burial/immersion) and declared my commitment to follow Jesus wherever He might lead me.

I learn about my Jewish Messiah, Jesus, and hundreds of Old Testament prophecies about His first and second comings.

I learned through a study of the Scriptures that Jesus’ death on the cross as a substitutionary atonement for all people, Jew and gentile, was actually predicted by our Jewish prophets 700 years prior to his birth at Bethlehem! The Urbachs showed me other prophecies in the Jewish Bible that pointed to Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel. Both Jesus’ rejection by His own people and his resurrection were also God’s plan.

"Yeshua" is the Hebrew translation of the English name "Jesus"  which has as its root meaning: [salvation, deliverance, welfare, and prosperity]. This salvation is brought about by God's intervention in human history. Thus, the very Hebrew name of Jesus reveals what God intended to accomplish for His people Israel.  The concept and promise of a "Savior" that would one day deliver his people from their sins and resurrect them from the dead for a final judgment, is a very Jewish Old Testament concept.  It was not invented by the Church!  I had no idea that the name Jesus had such a "Jewish" biblical meaning.  That is why we call Messianic Jews or Jews for Jesus, "completed or fulfilled Jews."

I realized that God was teaching me what it really means to be a Jew inwardly, a true worshiper of the living God. I have met many Jewish men and women who have searched in Hassidic mysticism, new age, yoga and eastern religion cults and still felt an emptiness in their rituals. I knew that I had to let my people know that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

I lived in New York City from 1974-1978 and attended both Messianic Jewish congregations and churches. I met dedicated believers, both Jewish and gentile, who had been on a spiritual pilgrimage which ultimately led to transformation in the Messiah Jesus. In 1978 I left my banking job to attend Wheaton Graduate School. In 1981 I received my MA in Theological Studies with an emphasis in the Jewish background to the teachings of Jesus.

I discovered that the eternal message of the Jewish Scriptures is that:

  1. All people, Jews and gentiles, have sinned against God, are alienated from Him and in need of reconciliation & forgiveness & spiritual healing. (Psalm 14:3; Isa. 59:2, I Kings 8:46)
  2. You cannot make atonement or receive reconciliation by making a claim on God by performing any amount of good deeds or mitzvot (divine commandments). Thus, an individual cannot save himself / herself from the power and guilt of sin.. (Isa. 64:5).
  3. God loves everyone and sent the Messiah to suffer for your sins. (Isa. 53: 4,5,10)
  4. This Messiah appeared in Israel 2000 years ago and died in fulfillment of what the ancient Jewish prophets had foretold Messiah would do. (Isa. 53, Daniel 9:26, Micah 5:1)
  5. This Messiah is not dead but was resurrected and is alive today to hear your prayers. (Psalm 16:10). The Messiah wants to heal your broken life, making you into a new person.
  6. You must put your faith in God’s Word like Abraham (Gen. 15:6) and believe that Messiah’s death was a voluntary, substitutionary sacrificial atonement for your sins.(Lev. 17:11)
  7. You can call upon this Jewish Savior–Messiah, TODAY, and be forgiven of all your sins and receive the gift of eternal life. (Joel 2:32). HIS NAME IS YESHUA (JESUS).

All I can say is that if you are a true seeker after God and want to know the truth no matter what the cost, then God will make His ways known to you. Are you willing to investigate, for yourself, the claims of Messiah no matter what your parents, rabbi, minister or friends might think?

It is not easy to break with certain teachings and philosophies that we thought were the truth when we were children. Many traditions are good and give a much needed diversity to our culture today. I love many of my ethnic cultural traditions that I learned from my Jewish upbringing – the importance of community, ethics and of course fine food and Hebraic music. I stand with Israel and believe that in fulfillment of ancient Jewish prophecies God has gathered our Jewish people back to His land.

However, I must obey God rather than the traditions of the elders or Rabbis when it comes to spiritual and biblical truth. Every Jew and gentile is called by God, like Abraham in the Bible, to (1) abandon one’s idolatrous past of selfish independence from God and (2) to trust in the Lord with all of one’s heart. I hope my story has challenged you to question some of your own beliefs so that you will seek to know the Messiah Jesus who said, "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father* except through me." (Jn. 14:6, NIV)

* By Father, Jesus means Israel’s God, The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all of your heart" (God’s Word recorded by Jeremiah, a Jewish prophet from the Tanach, the Old Covenant Scriptures, Chapter 29:12,13)

 I live In Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis, with my wife, Tamara, and children. My daughter, Rachael graduated from Taylor University (2000) and then married Steve Morley, her college sweetheart. In 1984 I went into the commercial and residential real estate business and work as a broker, realtor and consultant.

In the last 32 years I have shared my story and spoken to many different groups and organizations on how a person can develop an intimate relationship with God.   I also conduct Messiah in the Passover Seders and explain how Jesus celebrated the Passover, and I teach on subjects as: "Who is a Jew?"    "Why the Jewish Messiah had to die as an atonement for sin," "Ancient Jewish prophecies fulfilled in Jesus," and "Why thousands of Jewish people are accepting Jesus as their Messiah."

God really does love and care for you and wants you to have an abundant life. If you would like (1) any free books or (2) have any questions about what I believe or (3) need counseling, healing or prayer, please write or call me. Also, if you would like to meet other Messianic Jews in your area, feel free to contact me and I’ll let you know about meetings and events.

John and Tamara Lieberman Lieberman family on Florida Vacation

Rachael and Steve's Wedding

Rachael and Steve on Honeymoon

You can reach me at the following:

Messianic Jewish Life Ministries
317-382-2710  (e-mail)

Updated:  02/12/2004