The Challenge

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At 20 years old I believed I had life figured out. I knew how to put cash into my pocket and a roof over my head. I was able to do what I wanted whenever and wherever I wished.There was nothing I wanted from church, so in my mind, I didn’t need it. Same with God.

I determined to think positive, work hard and keep moving forward with my ultimate goals always in mind.

The formula was simple: get cash in whatever way possible, and keep it coming.

Why would I need God? I had science.  I knew why the sky was blue and the sun came up every morning. I didn’t need to read a book that was thousands of years old and had no relevance to my modern life.

If you were to ask me how the world was created, I would have said the big bang. If you asked me what caused the big bang, I would have answered, “It just happened.”

That was my limited way of thinking because my world was so small.  I had become a criminal at a young age.  Organized crime is not just about committing crimes, it is a way of life that takes over.  Everyone in the life looks at every situation through tinted glass: how can we benefit on a large scale.  Everyone around me did the same.  I cut my hair, shaved and dressed like I was told. Every person I was around was part of the life, or I didn’t consider them a friend.

I wanted to expand and become more successful which means I wanted more cash each week. I asked my capo, Jimmy, to put me with Mark – an older gambler who ran a sports book.  In other words, Mark was a bookie.  I had sold parlay cards and other sports gambling products so I knew the world.  Mark showed me how to set up my book and balance it.  I learned the lingo and the kind of bets gamblers would place.

The next year I was ready to go out on my own.  My first year I did well because I had older guys like Mark helping me along.  The next year I did even better and I expanded.  Everyone gambles and it does not hurt anyone – this is what I told myself over and over again.  This was a big lie because a person who is addicted to gambling will do anything to feel the thrill. Even when faced with ruin, these people kept gambling.

I soon swallowed up smaller bookies and they began working for me.  The money came easily because I was the house and the house always makes 10% on any bet.  I used the extra cash to loan out and gain more cash through loans.  Gambling is unlike any other business because you are not out any real product, only figures on a sheet of paper.

After twelve years I couldn’t stand my life at all. I wanted out of the life, but I was not willing to go through the uncomfortable period it would take to change.  The criminal’s dream is to find something that will bring in the same amount of cash that they are making except the profit becomes legal.  Until I realized that my way of thinking was broken and had to change, I would go no place fast. It wasn’t until my dream became getting out of the life altogether, profit or not, that I would find the answer.

God’s timing is perfect, but I didn’t know that at the time.  The FBI offered me a chance at a fresh start, and that was the turning point. I spent the next 8 years trying to undo what I spent my life before doing.  While I was still a part of the criminal world for the next eight years, I was no longer there as a criminal but as an informant for the FBI.

God gave me a fresh start, but it took me almost another ten years of trying to start over on my own before I turned to Him.

The challenge for me was to let God guide me instead of trying to find my own way.  It is a process that I am still going through and will be going through for the rest of my life. I know that everything I encounter is part of His plan, and I have to surrender my plans to His. When I look back at my life, I see a lot of mistakes.  I also see God’s hand at work. Success, I have learned, is all relative to what you consider successful.  The things our world considers success we learn in the Bible are very different from what early Christians, like Paul, considered most valuable – knowing Christ as our savior.

Philippians 3:7-14 (NIV)

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

I have learned some very hard lessons and all that I have learned about true success has helped me in two ways.  The hard work and positive thinking is still a part of my life.  I learned that I cannot be successful with doing what I feel is right, true success comes from knowing we are flawed and Christ bridged the gap between our flaws and God, offering himself as a sacrifice.  All the success you think you have or aim for will never be enough until you ask God into your life and make knowing and serving Him your definition of success.

 

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