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He Wanted Nothing to Do With Religion

“I remember walking past my dad's cell, and his head was in his hands. He was just praying.”

It was hard for Michael Lombardo to see his dad behind bars, especially since it was Michael’s fault he was there.

“And I remember feeling in my heart, like, ‘you are horrible.’”

The youngest of four, Michael grew up in a close-knit, blue collar Christian home in New Jersey. For the most part, life was good, until Michael hit his teen years.

“I got involved with a group of friends, and we were all about drinking, partying, sleeping around. I enjoyed that lifestyle. I was in a punk rock band, and we would travel around New Jersey a little bit and play shows. And I was like, ‘I'm just gonna dive into that lifestyle, I want nothing to do with this God stuff.’"

Michael often disappeared for days at a time. His parents, Joe and Stephanie, worried.

“It was very hard,” Stephanie recalls. “You know, a lot of tears, a lot of sleepless nights. I didn't know where he was. I didn't know if he was okay or not. I just had to trust God. We had to trust God.”

“I would sit him down and, you know, tell him, ‘Hey, what are you doing with yourself here? I know you're high.’ but – in one ear and out the other,’” Joe remembers.

“He wasn't our Michael anymore,” Stephanie notes.

Still, they loved and supported their son. His dad even gave him a job at his construction business after high school. But despite the warning signs, Michael wasn’t about to stop.

“And as I got a little bit older, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, parties got crazier, the lifestyle got more reckless. Drugs were taking a toll on me physically. I began to realize, okay, this isn't as cool and as I great as I thought it was,” says Michael.

His parents prayed constantly. Stephanie says Psalm 91 brought her comfort.

“I'd just be, you know, weeping. And then you just have to kind of wipe those tears away and just start speaking the word of God. Just start claiming his promises and agreeing with what God sees in Michael.”

One night, 18-year-old Michael had a car accident near his parents’ home and was arrested for drug possession. His dad drove to the scene and tried to help.

“And they arrested him as well, for obstructing justice,” Michael recalls. “I remember walking past his cell, and his head was in his hands.  He was just praying. And I remember feeling in my heart like, ‘You are horrible.’ And a lot of guilt, a lot of shame came in.’"

Joe handled it the best way he knew how—through prayer. “Just kind of gave it to God and said, ‘Lord, you know, we don't know what to do with him anymore. He's yours.’"

Joe and Michael were released that night and charges were dropped against Joe. Michael was given probation and a year of community service.

But it wasn’t until he wrecked another car a couple of years later that Michael started to realize the God he was running from was trying to get his attention.

“Both times I wasn't wearing a seatbelt; cars were crushed. And I knew in my heart and in my head, this was God. The fact that I'm not seriously injured, you know. The fact that I didn't die, it was God.”

Michael knew it was time to change, but it wasn’t that simple.

“I was having suicidal thoughts. Depression hit me. I tried everything to make myself happy, in my own power and abilities. I tried more drugs, I tried more relationships, I plunged myself into my music. Every time I got what I wanted, I was still empty, broken, unhappy. And I came to that place of like, ‘Wow, I can't get myself out of this. Either I'm gonna die, or I'm gonna reach out to Jesus and see if he is who people say he is.’"

At 20, he decided it was time to stop running. Michael clearly remembers that moment.

“I got in my room, opened up that Bible that my sister gave me, and it was like the words were just leaping off the pages. And I knew it was God. My heart just broken, just calling out to Jesus, ‘If you are who they say you are, I need you.’ And in that moment, it was like the whole atmosphere shifted in the room. This love poured into my heart. It was very, very tangible. The fear, the depression, the hopelessness, just evaporated. I thought, "This is better than drugs.” And I remember hearing the voice of the Lord for the first time, very, very clearly, and he said to me, ‘Son, I have plans for your life.’"

Michael couldn’t wait to tell his parents he had given his life to Christ.

“He told me that he had this amazing encounter with God and I’m just weeping, just so happy,” Stephanie recalls. “It's beautiful, you know?  Just beautiful. God answered all our prayers.”

Joe was thrilled too: “Inside of me was jumping up inside out, you know, I knew God was gonna use him.”

Michael says with God’s strength he was able to clean up every area of his life. Then, in 2012, he graduated from Christ for the Nations Institute and began working overseas as a missionary. There, he met his wife, Selina. Today, they are still active in ministry and are raising a family together

“I always thought God is about following rules and religious rituals and things,” Michael says. “But, no, it really is about a vibrant relationship with a loving father through his son Jesus Christ.”

“Don't give up on your loved ones, because God sees every tear, he sees you, he hears your prayers,” Stephanie adds.

“With God all things are possible,” says Joe.

Michael agrees: “It doesn't matter how deep, how dark, it doesn't matter what you've done in your life. He's there with open arms.”

Michael's Podcast, Awaken

Michael's Book, Immersed


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