From: The New Evidence that demands a verdictAnd: More than a Carpenter
Thomas Aquinas wrote, “There is within every soul a thirst for happiness and meaning.” As a teenager, I exemplified this statement. I wanted to be happy and to find meaning for my life. I wanted the answers to three basic questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? These are life's tough questions. I would estimate that 90 percent of people age forty and younger cannot answer these questions. But I was thirsty to know what life was about. So as a young student, I started looking for answers.
Where I grew up, everyone seemed to be into religion. I thought maybe I would find my answers in being religious, so I started attending church. I got into it 150 percent. I went to church morning, afternoon, and evening. But I guess I got into the wrong one, because I felt worse inside the church than I did outside. About the only thing I got out of my religious experience was seventy-five cents a week: I would put a quarter into the offering plate and take a dollar out so I could buy a milkshake!
I was brought up on a farm in Michigan, and most farmers a very practical. My dad, who was a farmer, taught me, “If something doesn't work, chuck it.” So I chucked religion.
Then I thought that education might have the answer to my quest for happiness and meaning. So I enrolled in the university. What a disappointment! I have probably been on more university campuses in my lifetime than anyone else in history. You can find a lot of things in the university, but enrolling there to find truth and meaning in life is virtually a lost cause.
I'm sure I was by far the most unpopular student with the faculty of the first university I attended. I used to buttonhole professors in their offices, seeking the answers to my questions. When they saw me coming they would turn out the lights, pull down the shades, and lock the door so they wouldn't have to talk to me. I soon realized that the university didn't have the answers I was seeking. Faculty members and my fellow students had just as many problems, frustrations, and unanswered questions about life as I had. A few years ago I saw a student walking around a campus with a sign on his back: “Don't follow me, I'm lost.” That's how everyone in the university seemed to me. Education was not the answer!
Prestige must be the way to go, I decided. It just seemed right to find a noble cause, give yourself to it, and become well known. The people with the most prestige in the university, and who also controlled the purse strings, were the student leaders. So I ran for various student offices and got elected. It was great to know everyone on campus, make important decisions, and spend the university's money doing what I wanted to do. But the thrill soon wore off, as with everything else I had tried.
Every Monday morning I would wake up with a headache because of the way I had spent the previous night. My attitude was, Here we go again, another five boring days. Happiness for me revolved around those three party-nights: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Then the whole boring cycle would start over again. I felt frustrated, even desperate. My goal was to find my identity and purpose in life. But everything I tried left me empty and without answers.
Around this time I noticed a small group of people on campus – eight students and two faculty – and there was something different about them. They seemed to know where they were going in life. And they had a quality I deeply admire in people: conviction. I really like being around people with conviction, even if their convictions are not the same as mine. There is a certain dynamic in the lives of people with deep convictions, and I enjoy that dynamic.
But there was something more about this group that caught my attention. It was love. These students and professors not only loved each other, they loved and cared for people outside their group. They didn't just talk about love; they got involved in loving others. It was something totally foreign to me, and I wanted it. So I decided to make friends with this group of people.
About two weeks later, I was sitting around a table in the student union talking with some members of this group. Soon the conversation got around to the topic of God. I was pretty insecure about this subject, so I put on a big front to cover it up. I leaned back in my chair, acting as if I couldn't care less. “Christianity, ha!” I blustered. “That's for weaklings, not intellectuals.” Down deep, I really wanted what they had. But with my pride and my position in the university, I didn't want them to know that I wanted what they had. Then I turned to one of the girls in the group and said, “Tell me, what changed your lives? Why are you so different from other students and faculty?”
She looked me straight in the eye and said two words I had never expected to hear in an intelligent discussion on a university campus: “Jesus Christ.”
“Jesus Christ?” I snapped. “Don't give me that kind of garbage. I'm fed up with religion, the Bible, and the church.”
She quickly shot back, “Mister, I didn't say 'religion': I said 'Jesus Christ.'”
Taken aback by the girl's courage and conviction, I apologized for my attitude. “But I'm sick and tired of religion and religious people,” I added. “I don't want anything to do with it.”
Then my new friends issued me a challenge I couldn't believe. They challenged me, a pre-law student, to examine intellectually the claim that Jesus Christ is God's Son. I thought this was a joke. These Christians were so dumb. How could something as flimsy as Christianity stand up to an intellectual examination? I scoffed at their challenge.
But they didn't let up. They continued to challenge me day after day, and finally they backed me into the corner. I became so irritated at their insistence that I finally accepted their challenge, not to prove anything but to refute then. I decided to write a book that would make an intellectual joke of Christianity. I left the university and traveled throughout the United States and Europe to gather evidence to prove that Christianity is a sham.
One day while I was sitting in a library in London, England, I sensed a voice within me saying, “Josh, you don't have a leg to stand on.” I immediately suppressed it. But just about every day after that I heard the same inner voice. The more I researched, the more I heard this voice. I returned to the United States and to the university, but I couldn't sleep at night. I would go to bed at ten o'clock and lie awake until four in the morning, trying to refute the overwhelming evidence I was accumulating that Jesus Christ was God's Son.
I began to realize that I was being intellectually dishonest. My mind told me that the claims of Christ were indeed true, but my will was being pulled another direction. I had placed so much emphasis on finding the truth, but I wasn't willing to follow it once I saw it. I began to sense Christ's personal challenge to me in Revelation 3:20: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” But becoming a Christian seemed so ego-shattering to me. I couldn't think of a faster way to ruin all my good times.
I knew I had to resolve this inner conflict because it was driving me crazy. I had always considered myself an open-minded person, so I decided to put Christ's claims to the supreme test. One night at my home in Union City, Michigan, at the end of my second year at the university, I became a Christian. Someone may say, “How do you know you became a Christian?” I was there! I got alone with a Christian friend and prayed four things that establish my relationship with God.
First, I said, “Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me.” I realized that if I were the only person on earth, Christ would have still died for me. You may think it was irrefutable intellectual evidence that brought me to Christ. No, the evidence was only God's way of getting His foot in the door of my life. What brought me to Christ was the realization that He loved me enough to die for me.
Second, I said, “I confess that I am a sinner.” No one had to tell me that. I know there were things in my life that were incompatible with a holy, just, righteous God. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:19). So I said, “Lord, forgive me.”
Third, I said, “Right now, in the best way I know how, I open the door to my life and place my trust in You as Savior and Lord. Take over the control of my life. Change me from the inside out. Make me the type of person You created me to be.”
The last thing I prayed was, “Thank You for coming into my life.”
After I prayed, nothing happened. There was no blot of lightning. I didn't sprout angel wings. If anything, I actually felt worse after I prayed, almost physically sick. I was afraid I had made an emotional decision that I would later regret intellectually. But more than that, I was afraid of what my friends would say when they found out. I really felt I had gone off the deep end.
But over the next eighteen months my entire life was changed. One of the biggest changes occurred in how I viewed people. While studying in the university, I had mapped out the next twenty-five years of my life. My ultimate goal had been to become governor of Michigan. I planned to accomplish my goal by using people in order to climb the ladder of political success – I figured people were meant to be used. But after I placed my trust in Christ, my thinking changed. Instead of using other to serve me, I wanted to be used to serve others. Becoming other-centered instead of self-centered was a dramatic change in my life.
Another area that started to change was my bad temper. I used to blow my stack if somebody just looked at me wrong. I still have the scars from almost killing a man during my first year in the university. My bad temper was so ingrained that I didn't consciously seek to change it. But one day, when faced with a crisis that would ordinarily have set me off, I discovered that my bad temper was gone. I'm not perfect in this area, but this change in my life has been significant and dramatic.
Perhaps the most significant change has been in the area of hatred and bitterness. I grew up filled with hatred, primarily aimed at one man whom I hated more than anyone else on the face of the earth. I despised everything this man stood for. I can remember as a young boy lying in bed at night plotting how I would kill this man without being caught by the police. This man was my father.
While I was growing up, my father was the town drunk. I hardly ever saw him sober. My friends at school would joke about my dad lying in the gutter downtown, making a fool of himself. Their jokes hurt me deeply, but I never let anyone know. I laughed along with them. I kept my pain a secret.
I would sometimes find my mother in the barn, lying in the manure behind the cowes where my dad had beaten her with a hose until she couldn't get up. My hatred seethed as I vowed to myself, “When I am strong enough, I'm going to kill him.” When Dad was drunk and visitors were coming over, I would grab him around the neck, pull him out to the barn, and tie him up. Then I would park his truck behind the silo and tell everyone he had gone to a meeting, so we wouldn't be embarrassed as a family. When I tied up his hands and feet, I looped part of the rope around his neck. I just hoped he would try to get away and choke himself.
Two months before I graduated from high school, I walked into the house after a date to hear my mother sobbing. I ran into her room, and she sat up in bed. “Son, your father has broken my heart,” she said. She put her arms around me and pulled me close. “I have lost the will to live. All I want to do is live until you graduate, then I want to die.”
Two months later I graduated, and the following Friday my mother died. I believe she died of a broken heart. I hated my father for that. Had I not left home a few months after the funeral to attend college, I might have killed him.
But after I made a decision to place my trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, the love of God inundated my life. He took my hatred for my father and turned it upside-down. Five months after becoming a Christian, I found myself looking my dad right in the eye and saying, “Dad, I love you.” I did not want to love that man, but I did. God's love had changed my heart.
After I transferred to Wheaton University, I was in a serious car accident, the victim of a drunk driver. I was moved home from the hospital to recover, and my father came to see me. Remarkably, he was sober that day. He seemed uneasy, pacing back and forth in my room. Then he blurted out, “How can you love a father like me?”
I sad, “Dad, six months ago I hated you, I despised you. But I have put my trust in Jesus Christ, received God's forgiveness, and He has changed my life. I can't explain it all, Dad. But God has taken away my hatred for you and replaced it with love.”
We talked for nearly an hour, then he said, “Son, if God can do in my life what I've seen Him do in yours, then I want to give Him the opportunity.” He prayed, “God, if You're really God and Jesus died on the cross to forgive me for what I've done to my family, I need You. If Jesus can do in my life what I've seen Him do in the life of my son, then I want to trust Him as Savior and Lord.” Hearing my dad pray this prayer from his heart was one of the greatest joys of my life.
After I trusted Christ, my life was basically changed in six to eighteen months. But my father's live changed right before my eyes. It was like someone reached down and switch on a light inside him. He touched alcohol only once after that. He got the drink only as far as his lips, and that was it – after forty years of drinking! He didn't need it any more. Fourteen months later, he died from complications of his alcoholism. But in that fourteen-month period over a hundred people in the area around my tiny hometown committed their lives to Jesus Christ because of the change they saw in the town drunk, my dad.
You can laugh at Christianity. You can mock and ridicule it. But it works. If you trust Christ, start watching your attitudes and actions – Jesus Christ is in the business of changing lives.
Christianity is not something to be shoved down your throat or forced on you. You have your life to live and I have mine. All I can do is tell you what I have learned and experienced. After that, what you do with Christ is your decision.
Perhaps the prayer I prayed will help you: “Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for me. Forgive me and cleanse me. Right this moment I trust you as Savior and Lord. Make me the type of person You created me to be. In Christ's name, Amen.”