As I sat on the sideline of my high-school gym in the semidarkness watching my friends dance to the heart-throbbing music of Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis, a strange feeling swept over me. I felt empty—hollow inside—and unsatisfied. It was difficult to interpret my emotions.
The weekends were the highlight of my life. Nothing was more fun than the party atmosphere of Norwich Free Academy on Friday and Saturday nights.
If you were a teenager growing up in the 1960s in my town, this was the place to be. Anybody who was anybody was there. The muscular athletes, the fun-loving party people, the intellectual eggheads, the out-of-place nerds and the hayseed farm boys were all there, living it up.
But for the first time in my life, I just did not seem to fit. I sat watching the action as couples gyrated to the beat of the latest tunes. I listened to the laughter, and it seemed phoney, makebelieve and shallow. I was present at the dance but, in a real sense, I was not present. My thoughts were far away.
Unanswered questions flooded my mind. How could I find inner peace? Where is life's true meaning? When would I find answers to life's big questions? Were there answers? If so, was it possible to discover them? I was a confused 17-year-old, desperately seeking to discover why I was here at all.
At about this time, I began raising some of these tough questions with my father: “If God is so good, why is the world so bad? How could a loving God allow so much suffering in our world? Why would God burn sinners in hell eternally? Where could I find inner peace, freedom from guilt, and a sense of life's true purpose?” I greatly respected my father. Dad was raised in the slums of New York City. He never knew his real father and left home at 17 to join the Navy.
Although he lived a rough sailor's life of drinking and partying with his buddies, he too came to the place in his life when he wanted something more.
Dad's search led him to the Bible.
There he discovered Jesus and in Jesus he found the peace his soul hungered for. Jesus provided the love my father never had as a child. In Christ, he found hope. The prophecies of the Bible pointed forward to a future securely in God's hands. Dad was anxious to share the Christ who changed his life with me, but he knew he had to be cautious or I would not listen.
In the summer of 1962, I spent June and July working in Dad's machine shop. Often we unloaded tonnes of steel from flatbed trucks together. I ran a “Brown and Sharpe” automatic screw machine that made parts for hospital beds. Each morning as Dad and I drove to work, we talked about faith. We discussed the big questions of life. We spoke about what really matters.
Dad encouraged me to begin reading the Bible, which I did. As I read God's Word, His Spirit touched my heart. One evening as I pored over the Bible, a sense of peace flooded into my mind. Kneeling, I cried out, “Lord, I'm Yours! Take my life—do whatever You want with it. It is Yours and Yours completely.” Shortly after making this commitment to God, I was impressed with the words of King Solomon, who said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5, 6).
Something clicked in my brain.
Although I may not have answers to all life's questions, God was worthy of my trust. Each day I have a choice to make.
Will I live life independent from God seeking my own way, doing my own thing, or will I trust God? This single Bible truth transformed me: God is trustworthy. He is concerned about me. He cares. Life is not some cosmic accident. Human beings are not some genetic mistake.
When the genes and chromosomes came together to form the unique biological structure of this being, called me, God threw away the pattern. There is no one else like me in the universe.
The most profound, mind-boggling truth in the world is found in a simple Bible passage: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
None of the other great world religions have this kind of loving God.
Other religions portray an offended God, a God who must be placated by the commitment and sacrifices of His creatures. All world religions acknowledge the sin problem. Christianity's solution is unique. When God created the universe, He made it perfect. His creatures lovingly obeyed His will.
Lucifer, an angelic being of dazzling brightness who was created “the model of perfection” (Ezekiel 28:12), chose the way of disobedience rather than obedience. Strangely, pride lodged in his heart. Before all the perfect, righteous, heavenly hosts, Lucifer claimed God was unfair and unjust.
If God had annihilated Lucifer immediately, all of heaven and the entire universe would have questioned God's justice. God chose a wiser course of action. He allowed evil to fully develop so that the universe can see its awful ugliness. To take away the power of choice is to destroy the ability to love, and to destroy the ability to love is to take away life's true happiness.
God gave our first parents, Adam and Eve, the ability to daily choose to serve Him. God did not remove their choice in the perfect garden. He did not create robots. He fashioned perfect beings who would love Him based on who He is. Since “God is love” (1 John 4:8), He can never act inconsistently with His nature. The only weapon He has is love. And love brings life.
When our first parents sinned, their sins separated them from God (see Isaiah 58:2). Since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), they deserved to die eternally. Each of us has sinned, as well. The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But it also says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The God of the universe loves us too much to let us go. When we were lost in sin, Jesus came. He lived the perfect life that we should have lived. He died the death that we should have died. Our Creator became our Redeemer. The One who made us saved us.
The cross of Christ speaks to humanity everywhere: “You are loved. Heaven will pay any price to save you.” As the truth of God's amazing love dawned on me, I realised there was nothing like it in the universe. By faith I accepted His perfect righteousness. By faith I accepted His death on the cross as my own. By faith I accepted resurrection power to change my life, and I have never been the same again.
Once I discovered His amazing grace and His life-transforming power, I was compelled to share it. “Good news” is for sharing. Grace is too good to be kept secret. When you're in love, everybody knows because it simply shows.
Jesus found me as a desperate teenager and changed my life. For the past 40 years, I've had the incredible privilege of sharing His love with millions around the world.*
Whether I'm preaching in a storefront in Tennessee to 100 people or in Papua New Guinea to 100,000, my heart overflows with how good God has been to me. His love is amazing, and I just cannot keep silent.