When I was thirteen, my dad passed away. It was a tragic blow to my family. It was not sudden, but it was a surprise. I can still see my mother talking on the phone to a doctor there at the hospital. When she said on that call, "so you are telling me there is nothing else we can do?", I had no idea how that was the beginning of a changed life, and not for the positive. I still may not know completely at the age of thirty nine. I wont say much about this, but Ive come to know that the father being present physically, emotionally and spiritually it VITAL to the growth of a child and for the good of the family. If the father is not present in the family, there WILL BE negative consequences from it. Don't take my word for it. Study after study has proved this to be true, and my personal life is a testimony to that.
Now, don't get me wrong, I didn't go out and do drugs, kill anyone, etc. I was somewhat a "decent" person. At that time though, there was a lot missing from my life, I just didnt know it. On the flip side of that, I had good, positive influences in my life as well. I had one guy who was an owner of a sod farm I worked at who would do Bible studies with me on Saturday mornings at 7am (Thanks Jeff S.). I had a guy named Mark S. challenging me with good discussions and living a life in front of me that showed something "different". I remember Mike C. coming to spend time with me after my dad passed away, to somewhat "fill the void" by playing on a old commodore64 (anyone remember that old thing?). I believe God used these people and more to slowly reveal to me Himself. What a blessing I see in that now, although I didn't see it then. What I didn't realize then was that I needed a father. You see, as a teenager, I had no idea the impact a father has on a child. All I knew was that my dad wasn't there any more. Not his fault, just the price we pay for living in a fallen world.
When I was a driving teenager, I would go to church and I would sit in the very back row at Woodward Ave Baptist Church. This one morning in particular, I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit "calling me". Not audibly, but inside. Not sure how to describe it. I used to say it was an "inner gnawing", if that makes any sense at all. I didn't know really what it was at first. At church that morning, I didn't do anything about it. I think it was because I didn't know what to do about it. I left church that day and came back to the night service. That "inner gnawing" was still there, but growing more and more. As the service came to an end that night, with the last song of the night and the preacher waiting for anyone who needed to prayer, etc, I stepped out and walked up that isle. That night, I gave my life to Jesus. I remember that when I went up and gave my life to Jesus, that "inner gnawing" went away, and I KNEW I was saved. Saved from what? (More on this at the end of this short story.) At that point, God became my Heavenly Father. He says he will be a father to the fatherless, and that is exactly what he did for me.
"Believing" in Christ was enough for me. I didn't need more. After all, I KNEW God existed because I heard Him speak to me. I didn't need more, nor have I to this day. In fact, I have heard God speak to me several times in the past. I simply didn't need more proof of His existence, nor do I now. I will always believe in Him, simply because of my experiences with Him. But the thought did come to me at one point, "What if my daughter ever questions her faith?" I need to be able to give her the answers she deserves and needs. Answers that come from facts, not feelings or experiences. I need to NOT just say, "You just have to believe" or "You just have to have faith" (I personally feel that these two responses to someone who has questions about their faith are absolutely ridiculous). My thought: If my daughter ever questions our faith, I HAVE to be able to give her rock solid answers. Answers that have foundation, and that are founded on the truth. Not the truth I want to believe or that I want her to believe, but the REAL TRUTH, no matter what that is. So my research began.
I researched a lot of things. To be very brief about this, I researched evolution in depth, OT Bible prophecy, archeology, cosmology, geology, DNA, dinosaurs, etc, etc, etc. The list goes on and on on what I researched. I couldn't get enough of this. I literally loved it. I listened to debates. I listened to the best people in these fields and reasoned everything out. I got into it all. In a nutshell, its called "Christian Apologetics", or defense of the Christian Faith.
I spent several years researching and reading to back up our Christian "faith". I was determined to find out what I need to know in case I ever get the "hard questions" from my daughter. Ill be prepared, not only for her, but also for anyone else who asks me the hard questions. This research time has turned my Christian "faith" into Christian "Facts". I no longer consider my walk with God a religious thing, but simply "the facts of this life". My faith in Christ has grown deeper because of this research, like a tree above the ground that has roots below. The roots used to be somewhat shallow, and there was the potential for that tree to fall down with heavy winds (I call that my walk in "Faith" alone). However, now the roots have grown deeper and made the tree stronger against the winds that blow (I call this my walk in "Faith", along with the "Facts" to back it up). Below, I have some books that I have read that may be helpful to you, as they were very helpful to me in my pursuit. Please look them over at the bottom of this post.
Its important to note that I never ever questioned my faith in Jesus Christ. (Again, more on this at the end of this short story on what "faith in Christ" means). I found that what I believed as a teenager was only backed up by facts. Really thinking our faith through and asking the hard questions. I admit, it was not always easy. Just when I found the answer to one question, a lot of times it led me to another hard question in my mind. I didnt ignore those questions either. I hit them dead on. But, after a few years of this, I came to a day where God said to me "Its enough". God was right, and I knew it. I was at peace about it, and I literally felt "at peace" with it. I should be well prepared to give my daughter (and anyone else for that matter) the facts to back up the faith we have in Jesus as our Savior and God THE Creator of the universe and everything in it (in only 6 literal days (proved this too)). Let me clarify this last statement: I belive that God is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God (3 in 1). All equally God, in three forms to make ONE GOD. NOT THREE GODS, JUST ONE GOD.
This walk with Christ has been a slow transformation for me. He has shown me areas I needed changing. He has shown me healing. And although I'm no where near perfection, my life is very different from who I used to be. During this process, the importance has come to my attention (by God pointing it out to me) that I needed to be a better husband and father. I did a ton of reading and learning on these subjects too. Thankfully, with God changing and transforming me (and still doing so), I'm a much better husband and father today than I have ever been. No, I'm not perfect, but I'm learning every day. Ill list some of these books below as well. Please look them over at the bottom of this post.
Now, to sum up "being saved", and why I needed to be saved and from what, please allow me to quote Dr. James Dobson. He simply has a way with words about this topic, and I can not say it better than he can. Im quoting from his book "Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives".
From Dr. James Dobson:
Here, then, is my concept of the plan of salvation and why Jesus's death was necessary: It begins, as it should, with an understanding of God's nature. Throughout Scripture, the Almighty is represented by two uncompromising characteristics: His love and His nature. Both of these aspects are reflected in everything God does, and none of His actions will ever contradict either component.
The love and justice of God were especially evident when He created Adam and Eve. Obviously, He could have “programmed” them to love Him and obey His laws. This could have been accomplished by creating them as highly sophisticated robots or puppets.
He did, in fact, program the brains of lower animals, causing birds to build a certain kind of nest and wolves to kill wounded elk. They have no choice in the matter. My Dachshund, Siggie, displays an assortment of wired-in behavior about which neither of us has a choice. For example, he can't help barking when the front doorbell rings, even if I threaten to kill him for waking the baby. Nor can he keep from gobbling his food as though he would never get another meal. God has imposed instinctual behavior in Siggie (some of which I would like to eliminate) which operates automatically and without learning.
But the Lord elected to put no instinctual behavior in mankind, leaving us free to learn. This explains the utter helplessness of human infants, who are the most dependent of all creatures at birth. They lack the initial advantages of unlearned responses but will later run circles around the brightest animals with “locked-in” reactions. Such is the nature of our humanness.
By granting us freedom of choice, therefore, God gave meaning to our love. He sought our devotion but refused to demand it. However, the moment He created this choice, it became inevitable that He would eventually be faced with man's sin. I've heard Christians speculate on what might have happened if Adam and Eve hadn’t disobeyed God. The answer is obvious. If they had not sinned, a subsequent generation would have. After all, if no one ever made the wrong choice, then there was no true choice to be made.
But Adam and Eve did sin, as we know, and thereby confronted God with the most serious dilemma of all time. His love for the human race was unlimited, which required that He forgive His disobedient children. The Bible says, “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him” (Psalm 103:13 KJV). That is an analogy I can comprehend. I know how I pity my children when they’ve done wrong. My inclination is to forgive them.
But in spite of God's great love, His justice required complete obedience. It demanded repentance and punishment for disobedience So herein was a serious conflict with Gods nature. If He destroyed the human race, as His justice would require in response to our sinful disobedience, His love would have been violated: but if He ignored our sins, His justice would have been sacrificed. Yet neither aspect of His nature could be compromised.
But God, in His marvelous wisdom, proposed a solution to that awful dilemma. If he could find one human being who wasn’t worthy of damnation – just one individual in this history of mankind who had never sinned, a man or woman who was not guilty – then the sin of every other person on earth could be laid upon that one and He could suffer for all of us. So God, being timeless, looked across the ages of man from Adam to Armageddon, but He could not find anyone who was innocent. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 KJV) it would be later be written. There wasn’t a person who was worthy of assuming the guilt, blame, and punishment for the rest of us. Therefore, the only alternative was for God to send His own Son to bear the sins of the entire human family. And herein we see the beauty of Gods plan and the reason Jesus had to die. When He was crucified here on earth, Jesus harmonized the conflict between Gods love and justice and provided a remedy for fallen mankind.
Thus, Jesus said as He was dying, “It is finished!” meaning, “I have carried out the plan of salvation that God designed for sinful man.” And that’s why God turned His back on Jesus when He was on the cross, prompting Him to cry in anguish, “My God, my God, why hast though forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 KJV). In that moment, Jesus was bearing the punishment for all human sins down through the ages, including yours and mine.
This understanding of the plan of salvation is not based on guesses and supposition, of course. It is drawn from the literal interpretation of Gods Word. This message is, in fact, the primary theme of all Scripture. The Old Testament says, “Jesus is coming!” and the New Testament proclaims, “Jesus is here!” But if I had to select one passage to represent the concept I’ve presented, it would be the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. It was written seven hundred years before the birth of Christ and provides an incredible prophecy of His mission. The summary of Gods entire plan is presented in this one chapter. Let me quote it from The Living Bible:
But oh, how few will believe it! Who will listen? To whom will God reveal his saving power? In Gods eyes he was like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. But in our eyes there was no attractiveness at all , nothing to make us want Him. We despised Him and rejected Him – a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. We turned our backs on Him and looked the other way when He went by. He was despised and we didn’t care.
Yet it was our grief He bore, our sorrows that weighed Him down. And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, for His own sins! But He was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was chastised that we might have peace; He was lashed – and we were healed! We are the ones who strayed away like sheep! We, who left Gods paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on Him the guilt and sins of every one of us!
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet he never said a word. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He stood silent before the ones condemning Him. From prison and trial they led Him away to His death. But who among the people of that day realized it was their sins that He was dying for – that He was suffering their punishment? He was buried like a criminal in a rich mans grave; but He had done no wrong, and had never spoken an evil word.
Yet it was the Lords good plan to bruise Him and fill Him with grief. But when His soul has been made an offering for sin, then He shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again and Gods program shall prosper in His hands. And when He sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of His soul, He shall be satisfied; and because of what He has experienced, my righteous Servant shall make many to be counted righteous before God, for He shall bear all their sins Therefore I will give Him the honors of one who is mighty and great, because He has poured out His soul unto death. He was counted as a sinner, and He bore the sins of many, and He pled with God for sinners (Isaiah 53 TLB).
Isn’t that a beautiful explanation of Jesus purpose here on earth? It makes clear why Gods plan necessarily involved His own Son – His grief and sorrow and death. Only by paying this incredible price could He harmonize the potential contradiction between love and justice, and provide a “way of escape” for mankind. It also explains why there is no other name by which we are saved and why we cannot escape so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:3).
One important question remains to be answered: Just how does a person proceed, now, to accept this plan and follow the risen Lord? I believe there are two basic steps in that process (although some churches emphasize only one). The first is to believe in the name of Jesus Christ. John 3:15 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Romans 10:13 (TLB) says it another way: “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So the first obligation for anyone is to accept what Christ did, as being for him, personally.
But as I understand the Scripture, and from my own theological perspective, there’s a second responsibility which is often under-emphasized. James expressed it like this: “Are there still some among you who hold that “only believing” is enough? Believing in one God? Well, remember that the demons believe this too – so strongly that they tremble in terror! When will you ever learn that “believing” is useless without doing what God wants you to do? Faith that does not result in good deeds is not real faith” (2:19 TLB). So something else is required. While its true that you cant “work” you way into salvation – you cannot do enough good deeds to earn it – repentance is still an important part of the process.
“Repentance” is a word that’s often misunderstood. What does it really mean? Billy Graham defined repentance as having three parts to it. The first is conviction. You have to know what is right before you can do what is right; and you have to know what is wrong in order to avoid those misbehaviors. Repentance also involves a deep awareness that you stand guilty before the Lord. I’ve seen people who call themselves Christians and say, “Yes, I believe in Jesus,” but they seem to have no real comprehension or awareness of their own sin and guilt. They have no “contriteness” of heart. From the Scripture in James we see that even demons “believe and tremble”; yet many individuals believe and do not tremble.
But where does this spirit of repentance originate? It must come through the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Deuteronomy 4:29 says, “But if from thence [from this point forward] thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find Him, if you seek Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (KJV). So you must want this relationship with God. He must be so important that you will allow Him to turn your life around and change your behavior. In summary, then, repentance includes conviction, knowing right from wrong; then contrition, being aware of your guilt and sin; and finally, resulting change of mind and heart and behavior.
Time and space limitations make it impossible to discuss other important theological issues of relevance to salvation, including confession (Romans 10:9-10) and baptism (Acts 22:16 and 2:38). Entire volumes have been written on a topic I have attempted to address in a single chapter. Perhaps I have, at least, provided a foundation from which the reader can launch his own study of the Bible.
I think it would be helpful, in conclusion, to give an example of the kind of prayer that a person might pray if he understands what I’ve been writing and wants to accept Jesus Christ as his own Lord and Savior. Let me express it in this way:
Lord, I bring you my sinful nature as you revealed it to me. I know I don’t have anything valuable to offer except myself and my love. I cant earn your forgiveness but you’ve offered it as a free gift from your Son, Jesus Christ. I accept your control of my life, and intend to serve You, obey You and follow You from this moment forward. You have my past, my present, my future, my family, my money and my time. Nothing will I withhold. Thank you for loving me and forgiving me and making me your own.
It is my prayer that you will find these resources as helpful or more as they were to me.
A FEW BOOKS THAT MAY BE OF INTEREST TO YOU, AS THEY WERE TO ME ON CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS:
1. The Case for Christ - Lee Strobel
2. The Case for the Real Jesus - Lee Strobel
3. The Case for Faith - Lee Strobel
4. The Case for the Creator - Lee Strobel
5. Why I Believe - James Kennedy
6. A Skeptics Search for God: Convincing Evidence for His Existence - Ralph Muncaster
7. Evidence for Jesus - Ralph Muncaster
8. Can You Trust the Bible - Ralph Muncaster
9. Science And The Bible - Henry Morris
10. http://toptenproofs.com/products.php - Bob Dutko
12. Many Infallible Proofs - Henry Morris
13. More Than A Carpenter - Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell
(These are just a small list of resources, but a great start. Let God guide you.)
FAMILY BOOKS, FOR HELPING ME BECOME A BETTER HUSBAND AND FATHER:
1. What Dads Need to Know About Daughters - John and Helen Burns
2. The 5 Love Languages of Children - Chapman and Campbell
3. His Needs, Her Needs - Willard Harley (This transformed my marriage)
4. The DNA of Relationships - Gary Smalley
5. Straight Talk with Men and Their Wives - James Dobson
6. For Men Only - Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn
7. Courageous (The Movie)
8. The Hidden Value of a Man - Gary Smalley and John Trent
9. Every Mans Marriage - Arterburn and Stoeker
10. Love and Respect - Eggerichs
11. The Blessing - Gary Smalley