Everybody has a story. Here's mine.
This is the story of how I grew up in a loving home... was taught to love Jesus... totally walked away from that into the sex, drugs and rock-n-roll/party scene and almost died several times... by the pure grace of God had my life totally revolutionized by Jesus... was diagnosed with and underwent surgery for the removal of a huge benign brain tumor... permanently lost 75% of my vision in the surgery... was called by Jesus to teach His Word... followed that call into ministry... and have now come to this place of using my gifts in teaching and music to serve the church as a pastor and reach out to my classic metalhead peers with the Good News about Jesus! That's the thumb-nail sketch... for the details read on!
"I grew up in a loving home & was taught to love Jesus..."
I had an amazing childhood. We had an awesome neighborhood. There were tons of kids, a woods with a creek and river, plenty of quiet streets to ride our bikes on; it was great! My mom and dad were very loving. They took my brother, Brent and me to church regularly and we learned from a young age about Jesus and the gospel. I have loads of memories of VBS, Sunday School and attending worship services with my parents. I am--and forever will be--grateful for those memories! They planted seeds of truth in my heart that eventually took root and allowed the Holy Spirit to draw to prodigal home! (More on that later).
I'll never forget the summer of 1977. I was ten years old. I attended "Jr. Church" in the basement of our church each week along with all of the other kids my age. That summer was wild. It was "the summer to get saved." It seemed like every week somebody went forward at the end of our Jr. Church service to receive Christ. And one week... I made that walk! I don't mean to belittle this moment... it really was a powerful moment in my life! I vividly remember being baptized that day! It was an amazing experience. Only problem was, I didn't really understand the commitment I was espousing. I've heard lots of stories of people who trusted Christ at a young age and never looked back... that just wasn't the way it worked for me. At the time I was afraid of going to Hell... I knew I didn't want that... So I went forward and said the words about trusting and believing in Jesus that the Adult led me in and I got dunked... But I didn't really make a commitment to follow Christ...
I just didn't want to go to Hell...
"I turned my back on Jesus and dove head-first into the sex, drugs and rock-n-roll party scene and almost died several times..."
Like I said earlier, I'm really grateful for my upbringing in church because it planted great seeds in my heart that made a huge difference later in my life... but... My teen years were a totally different story. There's absolutely no way to tell you about all of the trash I put myself through, but I'll do my best to paint a picture.
Somewhere around 15 my interests changed. Up to that point I had been very into athletics, which helped keep me away from the party scene. But at 15 I became immersed in music--specifically 80s hard rock and metal music. The roots of my obsession with music went back to Sept 24, 1980, at Market Square Arena, in Indianapolis. My dad took a friend of mine, Jay Harvey and me to see ACDC on the Back In Black tour. The lights went out, Angus Young stepped onto the stage—and my young 13 year-old heart fell down at the altar of Angus and began to worship. From that moment on I wanted to be Angus Young! As I stepped deeper and deeper into that world—the life style associated with it began influencing me.
“Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33, NIV) Never have truer words been written.
I loved AC/DC, KISS, IRON MAIDEN, OZZY OSBOURNE, JUDAS PRIEST, etc. I went to tons of concerts throughout that period of my life. I started going to all of the parties, smoking cigarettes, experimenting with marijuana, alcohol, and other "mind and-mood-altering" drugs. The members of my favorite bands became my gods. I turned my bedroom into a rock-n-roll shrine. Every inch of my walls was covered with posters and pics from rock magazines like Metal Edge and Hit Parader. My record and concert ticket-stub collections become my most prized possessions. My every thought was fixated on becoming a "rock star"--thus every week was filled with hours of guitar practice, partying, listening to music, work (which I hated and only did so I could have money to party, buy music equipment and records and go to concerts), and daydreaming about how great life was going to be when I finally "made it" in the music business.
I was so lost... and so naïve.
Because of my really messed up lifestyle I put myself in some extremely stupid and dangerous situations. I drove drunk and high all the time. One time I drove home from a concert in Indianapolis after drinking a lot of Whiskey and taking 3 or 4 Quaaludes (the old lemon 714s)... I was TRASHED and had ZERO business driving... I could barely walk. It was raining that night and at one point I passed out behind the wheel--going about 65/70 mph down I-69. My best friend Paul was passed out beside me and my brother Brent was asleep in the back seat. I woke up just in time to see our car about to smash into the car in front of us! I jerked the wheel and we proceeded to pass the car as we spun around in the passing lane! We wound up skidding to a stop in the median.
So many times I've thought, "What if there'd been an over-pass there! Brent, Paul and I could easily be dead."
A number of my classmates died in alcohol or drug related car accidents--pure foolishness—but I was spiritually blind and tally deceived. I honestly thought I was living the dream; having fun, being wild, on my way to the top of the rock-n-roll world! In reality I was just wasting precious years of my life, abusing my body, my mind and my spirit—putting myself and others in danger, and creating a lot of really bad memories that would haunt me for the rest of my life.
"...by the pure grace of God I had my life totally revolutionized by Jesus..."
Shortly after I graduated from High School I started feeling depressed all the time... Life, frankly, sucked really badly. I was hurting. The "rock-star" thing, clearly was not happening. I know now that God simply had other plans, but at the time I just thought life was horrible. I really wanted my life to count for something. I wanted to be loved, to fit somewhere, and to have peace in my heart—you know--the same stuff everybody wants, but it wasn't happening for me... the party scene had really grown boring and depressing. I mean I could go out and get blitzed, but even then, half the time I wound up sitting somewhere either sobbing about what a mess my life was, or getting into these really weird/deep conversations (with whoever I was partying with) about God.
I finally hit rock bottom.
I don't think I was suicidal, but I really didn't want to live either.
It was at that moment, at the very bottom of my barrel, that I decided to turn to the one person in whom I had seen and experienced all the things I so desperately wanted in my life: unconditional love, peace, joy, faith, meaning and purpose. I went to have a talk with my Grandma, Rachel Howard. The spoken intro and lyrics to OUT OF THE HELLHOLE recount this poignant moment in my life.
Grandma had loved Jesus and loved me (unconditionally) all of my life. I can't remember a time in my child hood that I didn't hear from Grandma at least once a week, and every time we talked she always managed to let me know that Jesus loved me and she did too. She was awesome! I saw in her all of the joy, peace, meaning and purpose that I wanted in my life. So I went to her apartment and dumped my heart. I told her everything—all the trash I'd put myself through. The funny thing is--she already knew most of it. Grandmas are pretty smart. Of course I'm sure that the 4 ear rings in each ear, ripped up jeans, RUSH concert T-shirt and breath/clothes that reeked of cigarette smoke may have given her a little bit of hint. She just listened to me and loved me through the whole thing. And when I was finished, I'll never forget her response! She said, "Bradie boy, why don't you fly out to Wichita Kansas and spend some time with your Uncle Morrie and Aunt Doris?"
That suggestion changed my life.
“The year was 1987. My soul was wounded and bleeding profusely. The devil’s claws had a death grip on my spirit. Dreams were dashed. My future seemed a barren wasteland. But then, out of the ashes, sprang a beautiful hope. A prophetess of Yahweh heard my heart’s cry and delivered a clarion revelation. One that miraculously set my feet on a journey toward true life in Jesus Christ. I was finally coming out of the Hellhole.”
~The spoken intro to OUT OF THE HELLHOLE.
~The spoken intro to OUT OF THE HELLHOLE.
I sure didn't have any pressing engagements keeping me in Anderson, Indiana! So, I packed a bag and my Fender Telecaster and got on the next plane for Kansas!
The moment I got off the plane in Wichita I knew that my life was going to be different. As I made my way down the corridor, toward the terminal--there were Uncle Morrie and Aunt Doris. They smiled, hugged me, and proceeded to love me, and they never stopped. I lived in their home for eight months and it was transformational! My Uncle Morrie was a pastor and my Aunt Doris led the Church Youth group so Church was a huge part of my weekly schedule--and the really cool thing about it was I WAS READY TO EMBRACE IT! God had given me enough rope to hang myself and I was tired of running away from him. Now I was running straight toward him as fast as I could! I devoured everything they shared with me--Bible lessons, memory verses, Youth Retreats (I was 20, but I hung out with the Sr. High Youth Group)... it was amazing! I think one of the key reasons I was able to dive in and make all of these changes was because nobody knew who I was. In Wichita nobody knew my past or my hang-ups... I literally had a fresh start, and I was more than ready to seize the day. I was like an old dried up sponge that had just been plunged into a bucket of cool refreshing water.
God was so wonderful amazing! He surrounded me with great Christian friends like--Shannon McCready and David Hull. They taught me that you really could have a great time without drugs or alcohol--just hanging out and talking, or watching a movie together. That may seem like a no-brainer statement, but sincerely—it was a revelation in my life at that time! I was growing spiritually like a weed. God filled my heart with joy, and with an insatiable hunger to know Him and His Word. And over the course of eight or so months in Wichita the Holy Spirit did an supernatural work in my heart that completely revolutionized my life! I was born again.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)
By the fall of 1987 I concluded that I had to go back home to Anderson. so that I could share my new life in Christ with all of my lost friends! So, I went home, but in the process I discovered something. People don’t respond well to super-zealous Christ followers telling them they need to surrender their life to Him on the spot. Instead of winning my friends to Christ I just freaked them out and caused them to distance themselves from me.
Looking back, I really was a little to "In your face/turn or burn confrontational." But was hard for me not to be, Jesus was real! He had totally changed my life! I was spiritually on fire! And since I saw all of that so clearly I just couldn’t understand why others weren't as enthusiastic as I was to jump on board the Jesus train.
"I was diagnosed with and underwent surgery for the removal of a huge benign brain tumor & permanently lost 75% of my vision in the surgery..."
I arrived back home in Indiana in early Sept. of 1987. From Sept. 87 -- Feb. 88, I struggled. I was home now so the Christian support I had enjoyed in Wichita was gone... My friends all thought I was some kind of religious fanatic. I had no work. I went down to the Burger King I had worked at in High School and begrudgingly got a part-time job just to have some money. I stumbled and partied some. I was just floundering.
I started waking up with these terrible headaches and experiencing moments of blurred vision. I thought I needed glasses so I went to an optician. He discovered something suspect and sent me to an ophthalmologist, who saw swelling in the optical nerves and sent me to a neurologist. The neurologist saw swelling in my brain and ordered an MRI. That test revealed a large tumor growing in the meninges of my brain. It was called a "paplademia meningioma". You don't forget things like that.
My neurologist referred me to a neurosurgeon, Dr. Hall at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Two weeks later, on March 2nd of 1988 I underwent surgery to remove the tumor. It still kind of freaks me out to think about it!
Following the surgery I noticed that I couldn't see very well. I assured myself that blurry vision was probably normal after having your brain cut on. When I asked Dr. Hall about it, he acted like it would clear up in time, but it didn’t. In later examinations I learned that my optical nerves had experienced trauma--the tumor had grown--most likely over the course of many years--to such a large size that it had caused my brain to "twist" which stressed my optical nerves. When the operation was performed my braid returned to its normal position--literally in a matter of hours/minutes.... my optical nerves just couldn't handle it and were damaged. Your optic nerve is like a bundle of cables that transmit information from your eyes to the vision center of your brain (which is in the back of your head). A percentage of those nerve strands (cables) we permanently damaged. The result was that I lost seventy-five percent of my visual field. When I look at a picture—what I see—I see well, but three quarters of it just isn’t there. I learned later that I was “legally blind.” That kind of freaks me out to write because I feel like I can see. I mean if you ever meet me, you'll never know I'm legally blind unless you ask me to move your car or toss me something and see it bounce off my chest. I see enough to get around and function in most circumstances just fine.
I don’t want to just gloss over my vision loss, like I took it all in stride without grieving. It was a long and torturous process. I cried and wrestled with God for a solid year. I kept asking, "Why God?" I had just recommitted my life to Christ. I was striving to live for him and bam—seemingly out of nowhere I got hit with brain surgery and legal blindness, why?
I begged, bargained, pleaded, yelled, the whole nine-yards. God just listened. He let me wrestle. He was shaping me, forming character within me. That season seared the truth of God’s words to Paul into my heart:
“I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NIV)
God was at work in this for good (Romans 8:28). He was bringing to life a new kind of "vision" in my heart. Vision for life and ministry.
Finally when the time was right--God spoke to my heart:
"Brad... you're asking the wrong question. You will never have a satisfactory answer for the why question. Even if I sent Gabriel himself to you—and filled the room with heavenly light as he told you WHY this happened, the instant he left and the light faded, you would say, ‘Okay, but WHY…?’”
The WHY question is a really bad question to ask your Sovereign Heavenly Father whose thoughts are as high above yours as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:9).
God said, "You need to ask Me a new question. You need to ask WHAT? What can I do through you, blindness and all? Ask me what My plan is in all of this? After all, do you think this caught Me off guard or by surprise? I know all about it. I know what exactly what you can and can’t see because I sovereignly oversaw every aspect of it. I have promised never to leave you or forsake you. I knows the plans I have for you and they are good plans, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Trust me."
That day surrendered. I said, "Ok God... you win. I give up."
I quit asking "why" and asked, “What do you want to do with my life?" That was one of the best prayer I ever prayed.
"I was called by Jesus to teach His Word & followed that call into ministry..."
Once I let go of the "why" question and began seeking God's direction for WHAT He wanted to do with my life, it was amazing how quickly things changed. Joy returned to my heart. I was filled with an excitement for being with God's people... I began devouring the Word again. I read very slowly because of my blind spots, but the more I read the faster I got. I was 21 years old when I underwent the surgery (March 2, 1988). By September of 1989 I was enrolled in classes at Anderson University--a Christian Liberal Arts College in Anderson, IN. College was so good for me. It forced me to get out, move, talk to people (which felt very awkward for me at first) adjust to new places, circumstances, environments, etc. My first couple of years post-surgery, were all about me learning how to navigate in a 75% blind world and a college community was the PERFECT combination of a safe, helpful, and challenging—just what I needed.
My time in college was l--o--n--g and wonderful… too long to describe fully here, but I’ll sum it up this way: I made a ton of friends, and grew intellectually, relationally and spiritually beyond anything I could have imagined! I loved school so much, I stretched four years out to six! After my Jr. year at A.U., I transferred to Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, TN, where I spent three more years, graduating with a 180+ hour Bachelor’s Degree in 1995.
Jesus' call on my life to full-time pastoral ministry sort of evolved. From the moment I quit asking "why" and started asking "what" I knew that whatever I did with my life it would involve serving God, but I was wide open in regards to what that might be. I explored a lot of options. Of course, I tested the waters of music ministry. I put a couple of bands together and played Youth Rallies, etc. While that we fun, it became clear that this was not God's plan. I considered selling everything I had and joining commune in Chicago, called "Jesus People USA." But this too fizzled out as God, little by little, began to fill my heart with a desire to work within an established Church. On Thanksgiving Sunday, 1990 (I'll never forget it) Guthrie, our minister, was preaching from Ephesians 1. As I read the passage with him, I came across the words, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7-8, NIV) God used that passage, in that moment, to bring all of my wrestling to an end. It was a Holy Spirit moment for sure. The Lord clearly confirmed in my heart that I was called to be a pastor, to tell the world about this amazing redemption available through Jesus---and His amazing grace which He LAVISHES (pours out upon us in an extreme, unrestrained, overflowing manner) on us! At the end of the service I went forward and publicly confirmed that Jesus had called me to be a pastor. Thus began my journey toward ordination.
For me, the ordination process took five years. It was a wonderful, challenging, stretching time of school, ministry and interaction with my home church leadership. Whenever Kelly and I came home to Anderson on breaks (Kelly pretty much put me through 4 of my 6 years of school. Have I mentioned that she's awesome?) Guthrie (our Pastor) always had opportunities for me to preach or teach a class. We would talk with him and the elders. When I graduated we had this really nice ordination service at my home church. The elder's laid hands on me and prayed, setting me apart for pastoral ministry.
From there we headed for Altoona, PA where I served for three years (95-98) as Associate Pastor of Youth at First Church of Christ, what a great place! Our first child, Kara was born while we were there (August 3, 97). We left Altoona in 1998 because the itch to preach was growing strong within my heart. My first preaching ministry was at the Raceland Christian Church, Raceland, KY. We were only in Raceland for two years. There's actually quite a story there. If we ever get a chance to talk, ask me about it and I'll tell you. My son Joshua was born in Kentucky (May 20, 99). In August of 2000 we loaded up the U-Haul yet again and moved to northern Indiana, to serve as Pastor of the Michiana Community Church of God. I serve MCCOG for almost seven years. We loved that church, still do!
I'm sure from much of my story above... it's pretty obvious that I have a serious love for rock-n-roll music/guitar. But God just knew that the way I was pursuing it when I was younger would have ruined my life and brought no glory to Him... so thankfully He blocked every effort I made to go after the rock star thing in my teens!
However, in the early fall of 2002 I got the itch to play my electric guitar again. For about a 5-6 years my Telecaster had sat, in pieces, literally. I had disassembled it planning on refinishing the body someday, but I just never did. I had played my acoustic regularly--leading worship and noodling around at the house. But the electric thing had just sort of faded out of my life. Now, all of a sudden I got this itch to refinish my Tele and play again, so I did, And it turned out nice great! I had it rewired and set-up at a local shop in South Bend, broke out the amp and started jamming! It felt great! I had purchased some recording software for the church. Our goal was to create accompany tracks for worship, but as I experimented with the software and learned how to record—my heart was flooded with song ideas and vision for this ministry.
THE REST, AS THEY SAY, IS HISTORY!
GuitarJams.Net was born in the Spring of 2003! Today GuitarJams.Net is PastorBradRocks.Net (both urls take you to my website).
"I have now come to this place of using my gifts in teaching & music to serve the church as a pastor, encourage you and lift up praise to Jesus!"
We’ve moved a couple more times since our ministry in northern Indiana. I’m now the lead minister at First Christian Church in Cookeville, TN (since June 2018). But the Pastor Brad Rocks mission never changes—Rocking Classic Metal Heads Up for Jesus!
I'm so fired up about serving God with this this platform! I hope you're blessed by the content I create. If you dig what I’m doing and would like to support me, head over to my PATRON PAGE and learn how for just a couple bucks a month you can make a huge difference in this ministry and RECEIVE some SUPER COOL BENEFITS in return! Pray about it, and whatever the Lord leads you to do—God bless you and thank you for being part of the Pastor Brad Rocks Family!
Thanks for reading. If you ever have any questions about any of the things I shared, or if you'd just like to talk—reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook @pastorbradrocks.