It started off as a random drive with a good friend along a Southern California freeway…and ended with in a mind-blowing story from a real biker dude.
A few years ago, a friend and I were attending a Pastor’s Prayer Retreat in Pasadena. The first five days of the retreat were pretty intense. But it was Saturday and we were off; no lectures and lessons until Monday. We had one car, a full tank of gas, and the whole weekend to explore the hills, beaches, and freeways of Southern California. We hit the road in our rental.
The beauty of Southern California has sparked the dreams of millions over the years. We were no exception. We drove the freeways and we talked about our future and what kind of life we could dare imagine. What if (we started to dream) we each bought Harley-Davidson motorcycles, somehow convinced our wives to become biker wives, and took off, out on the open road! We were just dreaming. However, within an exit or two, we pulled up to the local authorized Harley-Davidson dealer near Pasadena. Two wild and crazy guys…
Within 15 minutes of walking in the store we were sitting astride two bikes… Do you get the visual? Two middle-aged paunchy pastors wearing pleated shorts sitting astride the the demos on the showroom floor. Zoom.
Then suddenly, there was a roar, like a sound of thunder. A Harley rolled up to the front of the store, the rider dismounted, and swaggered through the front door. He had on full leathers. His dirty blond wind-swept hair was tied back in a pony-tail. The wrap-around sunglasses hid his eyes but not his weather-beaten face. When he took the leather jacket off, he revealed the rough history of a life tattoed all over his arms.
We were wannabes. He was the real deal. The Pasadenian Biker.
I can’t remember how he and I started talking, but he was pretty frank about life on a bike. It was all he had known. He’d been around the country more than a few times. He was mid-40s. Our conversation belied the stereo-typed rider. He was friendly and eager to answer all my questions.
Then he asked what kind of work I did. When he heard I was a pastor, he stopped for a moment and grinned. He told me he had become a Christian about ten years earlier in a remarkable way. After a heavy week-end of drinking and drugs, he was in jail. He lay on the bunk and stared up at the bottom side of the bed above him. (He told me this story in vivid detail.) He said he started to think about this life and all the addictive traps he was in. He told me that tears had filled his eyes that night in jail as he contemplated what the drinking and drugs had cost him: his health, two marriages, and many nights in prisons. His kids were afraid of him. He was deeply sorry.
He was lying down on that the bottom bunk in the county jail. He noticed that someone had scratched out a rough looking face in the painted surface above. “I stared at that face a long time. But it started to change into a face that looked like mine! It was wicked; it was evil and sinister. It scared me. I cried like a baby…”
Then his own eyes started fill with tears as he told me what happened next. He said that the scratched-out face began to change again. This time the face took on the attributes and outline of the face of Christ. It was kind and loving. Suddenly, he said, he was bathed in a warmth he had never known before. A bright light beamed down from that face. He told me that it lasted only minute…but it seemed like an eternity passed by.
“I told Jesus I was sorry for everything. Then I felt peace, man.” That is the direct quote I remember the most. And I specifically remember him saying this too: “I had the most incredible feeling of being loved.” I remember these statements because it seemed so incongruous with his outward appearance: a full-on biker dude telling me he had a feeling of being loved!
This biker had become a Christian that day in jail. His addictions had been switched off in a remarkable epiphany from the Lord. He had recognized the cost of his sin, repented of it as best he knew how to do. His Damascus Road moment was in a jail-house bunk. He met the Lord…or rather, the Lord had met him.
When I asked him what had changed in his life since that time, he was effusive. The Lord had freed him from his cocaine addiction that very day. He stopped drinking booze then too. I also remember that he said this, “I smoked weed for a few more months, but then He took that away too.”
The biker told me he shared the story of his conversion with his parole officer, who had been skeptical. He told his ex-wives and kids he would be different from then on. He started attending a “Biker Church” and had since become one of its pastors.
(A Biker Church? Pastor? Maybe my friend and I weren’t so far off in our dreams.)