A Heritage Passed Down
About the Guest
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Alistair Begg is a Scottish pastor in Ohio with a radio program, called “Truth For Life.” Bob Lepine sits down with Alistair as he shares about the spiritual heritage passed down from his family and the impact it made on his life.
A Heritage Passed Down
Bob: Have you ever tried to map out a plan for your life? Alistair Begg says he did that once.
Alistair: I had written the script for my life, which was: I was going to get a law degree, a BMW 2002, and I was going to marry this American girl called Susan Jones if I could just manage to keep her on the wire for long enough as I was writing letters across the ocean. I faxed that to God, as one would say, and asked for His signature. He sent it back with a blank sheet; said, “If you sign the bottom of the blank sheet, I’ll fill in the stuff for you.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 20th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Whatever plan you have imagined for your life, here’s a promise: “The one God has for you is even better.” Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Many of our listeners know this: about ten-plus years ago, we got a phone call from our friends at Truth for Life, the ministry that Alistair Begg leads. They were getting ready to make some changes to their program. They called and asked Dennis and me, “Would there be any way that Bob could be the announcer for our program?”
Ann: That’s a compliment.
Bob: Well, it was humbling. Dennis and I sat down and thought, “Is that going to be confusing for people, who hear me on FamilyLife Today, and then they hear me on Truth for Life?—and they go, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’”
Dave: You should do a Scottish accent on Truth for Life. [Laughter]
Bob: I’ve tried. [Laughter] Nobody can touch that Scottish accent of Alistair’s.
We talked about it; and ultimately, I said, “You know, I’ve stolen so much from Alistair over the years in any preaching I’ve done, that I kind of owe it to him.” So for more than ten years now, I have been the guy at the beginning and the end of the Truth for Life radio program, introducing Alistair Begg.
Dave: Yes, I’ve heard you. Honestly, one time I heard you and I thought, “Oh, it’s FamilyLife Today!”
Dave: Then I heard Alistair, and I’m like, “Oh, it’s not!”
Bob: Well, I have such respect, such appreciation, and admiration for him.
Recently, we were together. We had about an hour-and-a-half, where we just sat down in a studio; and I said, “There are things I don’t know about your life, about your history, about your background, about your marriage, your family, that I think listeners would be interested in.” We recorded an extended interview; and this week, we’re going to share some excerpts of that interview with our listeners.
For those listeners who don’t know who Alistair is—they go, “Who’s this Alistair Begg guy?”—Alistair is the pastor at Parkside Church in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. He is the Bible teacher on the radio program, Truth for Life; he is an author; he is a well-respected, well-known conference speaker. If you don’t know him, you will recognize immediately that he did not grow up in these parts; right? [Laughter]
Bob: Alistair grew up in Scotland, so I started my questions with him about what it was like to grow up in Scotland a generation ago.
Alistair: My grandfather on my father’s side was a shepherd; you know, literally, sheep on the cliffs. But eventually, once you have children, there’s only fishing and farming—and not a lot of that—so you have to go down south to find work, not only for yourself, but also for your children. I have this strange combination of being raised in the sort of west of Scotland by a father and a grandmother on his side who were Highland Scots, which gives a flavor to things that I’m very grateful for.
Bob: What was the spiritual environment in your home other than churchgoing? Was the Bible read? Was there family time?
Alistair: Yes; yes. My dad was a very disciplined man. You know, he’d been in the army. If you find his Bible, he read his Bible; and the marker was in the place. You could pretty well set your clock by it. That was part of our lives as well around the table.
I mean, sometimes—I’ve thought about it, often, [with] my own children—of how jolly difficult it is to pull this off: with the school bus is coming; “Where’s the toast?” and everything. But he soldiered on; you know.
He used to use the [“Our Daily Bread”] from Richard W. Dehann, or whatever it was, just for those times. It was very brief, and you had the little thing; then a word of prayer, and then we’re on our way.
Our home was also populated by other Christian people. I was thinking about that the other day, when we were reading in our team meeting in 2 Timothy, where Paul says to him, “So, Timothy, pursue righteousness, faith, peace, and love, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
The great benefit of the sort of larger environment—of recognizing that it’s not just/you know, because when you’re young, you think, “Maybe my parents are just the weirdest people in the entire community,”—and then you say, “Oh, no; there’s a number of these really weird people, and they keep coming to my home.” [Laughter] My parents were given to hospitality. If someone was a visiting preacher or something, they would be in the home. It was a very happy environment that was then broken in upon, of course, by the premature death of my mother.
Bob: The circumstances of your mother’s death?
Alistair: A dramatic heart attack, out of nowhere, just sitting in our house and dying.
Bob: Were you with her?
Alistair: No; my sisters were. I was gone.
Bob: How did you get the news?
Alistair: I was a student at LBC, gloriously known as the London School of Divinity.
Alistair: I roomed with a boy from Rhodesia, who had been a geography teacher older than me. Early in the morning of November 2nd, early in the morning, someone came knocking on the door. One of us said, “Yes?” It was the principal, the Reverend Gilbert Kirby; he said, “I just need to come in and talk to Alistair.”
I had no idea what was coming. He sat down on the edge of my bed, because I was still in bed; and he said, “Alistair, I can only tell you this one way. Last night, your mother died.” It was just unbelievable; I mean, nothing could prepare you for it. That was it; I don’t think we hardly said anything. We didn’t need to say anything; it was that bonding that happens.
We’ve seen it in pastoral ministry, where we deal with people at the extremities of their lives. We may not say much, but we’re privileged to be there. That privilege was given to him. There couldn’t have been a better person to have essentially had that responsibility than Gilbert; he was a wonderful man. Gilbert, then, was a key part of my journey from that point on.
Bob: How did your father do after your mom passed?
Alistair: My dad was very good at stuff. My dad, because of his involvement in the Second World War, as a batman to a general, knew how to cook, and would easily turn out a really splendid Sunday lunch. But what he did he had to do—he had two children at school—he would stop by the grocery store, either on his way into work or out of work, he would come home.
I was gone, you see; I was then at college. Then from college, I was in Edinburgh. He did really, really well; but he lasted for seven years, and then remarried. To my shame, it never really occurred to me to think about what it meant for my father; because my mother was only 46, so I think my dad was probably 48. As a 20-year-old, it was all about what it meant to me; but yes, it was tough. I mean, it had to be tough; I can’t imagine doing what he did, but he did.
Again, of course, a deep conviction about faith. Incidentally, the man’s name was Harper—the Reverend Harper—and it’s the Harper Memorial Church that was built as a memorial to Harper, who was coming to America to preach. That’s where my mother’s funeral took place as well.
Bob: When your dad remarried, was that a challenge for you and your sisters?
Alistair: I think a big challenge for my sisters. A challenge for me only in absentia. Ironically, he married my best friend’s mother. My best friend’s father had died some years previously—I can’t remember the details—but he was a man who had a poor heart and, eventually, heart failure took him out; so my best friend’s mother was a widow, and his best friend’s father was a widower.
Although there was no relationship between the families—despite the fact that we, as children, were friends and school chums and so on—I guess, in the sense of shared loss, they found comfort and affection in one another; and so were married. I would not suggest that for everybody. My youngest sister—who was only 11 and has only the vaguest recollections of my mother—has a new relationship with her father and this lady foisted now upon her, with all the elements that are attached to that. None of it was bad or anything, but it was just so different.
Bob: It’s a challenge; isn’t it? Anytime we work with families in the best of situations, where there’s loss—every stepfamily comes out of loss—so everybody’s processing the loss, and what used to be, and who was, and who is now, and “What’s my relationship with my dad now that this new person’s here?”
Bob: All of that, the dynamics are fraught with all kinds of disappointment and getting sideways with one another.
Alistair: Yes; I’ve seen some wonderful illustrations of it. I’ve seen a lot of the other kind, too, in pastoral ministry.
Bob: Your call to pastoral ministry, that happened in your teen years?
Alistair: No, I wouldn’t say so. I wanted to do law; I thought I could be Perry Mason. I didn’t realize that nobody can be Perry Mason, that there’s no such thing as Perry Mason.
Bob: You have to write a script for that to happen; yes.
Alistair: Yes; but I loved those shows. I think they were in black and white when I was watching them.
Yes, without delving into all of that, when I stepped away from where I was, and took this year out to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up, I came to another one of these points along the race, where I had a strong conviction that—although I had written the script for my life—which was: I was going to get a law degree, a BMW 2002, and I was going to marry this American girl called Susan Jones if I could just manage to keep her on the wire for long enough as I was writing letters across the ocean. I faxed that to God, as one would say, and asked for His signature. He sent it back, just with a blank sheet; said, “If you sign the bottom of the blank sheet, I’ll fill in this stuff for you,”—this is a metaphor, of course.
I came to a strong conviction that I had my thing upside down, that I was simply asking God to bless my plan. I had had all these things: you know, I’m taking my school chums to the thing; I’m loading the car up—we had a singing group, you know—in the singing group, in the coffee bars of the ’60s, I was the one that did the talk, not because I was any good, but because the other two guys wouldn’t do it. All of that is in there.
Then I said, “Well, what I’ll do is I’ll go somewhere that I can do a theology degree and prepare myself for whatever God has for me. But the one thing I know He hasn’t for me is pastoral ministry.”
Alistair: Yes; “I will not do that [pastoral ministry], because I could never tell my friends; because there’s nothing cool about that.” I could tell them I’m involved with Christians in sports; I could tell them that I’m involved in a student ministry; or I could tell them I’m involved in music ministry; but I couldn’t tell them that: “I’m a pastor of a church. I mean, that cannot happen.”
The definitive moment that just took the rug out from underneath me was in the spring of ’75. I was doing things with an English evangelist at the time for sort of work exposure. We would go and do youth weekends. We would meet the people, and sing to them—and do whatever we were doing—try to encourage them/lead them to faith.
One Monday, I have returned from one of these ventures down on the south coast of England. I’m sitting at lunch with some of my friends at college and a couple of the faculty members. One of them, the Reverend John Bolton [spelling uncertain]—who had Coca-Cola® [eye] glasses and used to squeeze his eyes all the time—you know, nobody’s saying much; so I said, “I don’t like these things anymore.”
“What things?” “These weekends.” “Why don’t you like the weekends?” I said, “You know, I can tell you why I don’t like them: because they end.”
He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, I go down there on a Friday night. I’m introduced to a whole group of people that I’ve never met before. Come Sunday night, I get in the car, and I drive away, and I’ll never see them again. I don’t like that.”
Bolton leans forward, squeezes his eyes together, and he says, “I can tell you why that is.” He said, “That is because God has given you a pastor’s heart. If you were an evangelist, you could come and go. As a pastor, you can’t.”
I remember, even as I tell it to you now, I remember it was like the death knell and the opening up of the future. I remember I went back to my room, and I wept. I wept because I said, “No,”—you know—“that’s just ridiculous. Plus, I’m 23 years old; how do you become a pastor?” “What does Bolton know?—he doesn’t know anything.” I would go through all of this.
A note just comes in from Derek Prime, it’s put up on the board. It said: “Derry Prime: Dear Gilbert, my assistant is moving to take a church on his own; I wonder if you have anybody down there that you may care to recommend.” Gilbert Wright sent a letter to him; I go meet him at the King’s Cross railway station coffee bar, and the rest is history. I’ve never applied for a job in ministry; it was the call of God.
When I was ordained, and I wore the clerical garb—I think you’ve heard me say this before—I might just as well have stood up with no clothes on in front of the congregation; that’s how vulnerable—and I said, “If I’m going to do that, I’ll never quit on this. I’ll never quit on this.” That was it. Then, when I was ordained—and I trusted the elders, that they said, “Yes, we believe that your subjective sense of being drawn to this reluctantly is a realistic sense,”—I trusted them.
Bob: As you look back on the family you grew up in—your father, your mother, the spiritual influences—how did that carry into your own marriage and family and how you chose to raise your kids?
Alistair: Well, not as well as I would have liked, I think. You know this from your own varied career, if we might put it that way. There is, I think, a distinct advantage in being a father, who is in a normal sphere of life—
Bob: —works in insurance.
Alistair: —works in a job, goes, comes; Sunday he’s in this, and whatever else it is—both for the individual and, also, for the child.
For me, one of the things that has always been so daunting is; for example, you know, weekends are not weekends.
Alistair: There’s none of that wonderful Friday night feeling; it’s not even shareable with your children in the same way. Added to that, I’m doing this in America. If it was in Scotland, I would be teaching my children all the things I knew about Scotland and sports in Scotland. I never shot a basketball; I never had my hands on an American football; I never played baseball. There’s this weird role reversal, at one level, in the raising of your kids, that your children are introducing you to a world. I never rode a school bus.
Now, all of that is superficial stuff. In terms of the drumbeat of our focus is—on Christ/on the Scriptures—we’re going to read them together, despite the toast, despite the bus. All of that we sought to do; and we’re in the happy situation of our children, not only understanding that, but embracing that.
Bob: That is just a portion of a conversation that I had recently with my friend, Alistair Begg, who is the host of the radio program, Truth for Life, and a pastor in Cleveland, Ohio.
It’s fascinating to me—families mark us for life—the home you grew up in, for better or for worse, marks you for life.
Dave: It sure does; yes, it does.
Bob: It’s not determinative; because I know a lot of families, who have done everything to the best of their ability according to God’s design, and they’ve watched their kids walk away. I know families that have messed things up, right and left; and they’ve raised kids—
Dave: That’d be me! That would be my home.
Bob: No perfect parent; right?
Bob: —but these are kids, who are walking with the Lord today; and they didn’t have a spiritual heritage.
In Alistair’s case, there was the mark of a mother and a father who loved the Lord. His mom’s death, of course, marked him as well; and it’s a heritage he has sought to pass down to his children. If our listeners are interested in the extended conversation with Alistair, you can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. The entire conversation is available there as an mp3 download; again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
Alistair’s also written a brand-new book about faith; it’s called Brave by Faith: God-Sized Confidence in a Post-Christian World. We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center; we’d love to send a copy to you. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order Alistair’s new book, or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the book is Brave by Faith. You can order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy.
Now, I know most of us are kind of looking forward to the official opening days of summer and, maybe, the opportunity to do some things this summer that we haven’t been able to do for awhile. Summertime is a glorious time. For ministries, like FamilyLife®, it can be a challenging time; because as people get busy with other things, we often see donations to ministries, like FamilyLife Today, go down.
We’ve had some friends of the ministry, who have come to us recently, though; and they’ve said, during the month of May, they want to help get us ready for the summer. They have agreed to match every donation we receive this month, dollar for dollar, up to a total of now $350,000. That’s a very generous offer. We have been hearing from some of you, who have been making donations this month; thank you for those. Those donations have already freed up funds from the matching-gift fund, so that’s exciting for us.
We also want to let you know that, if you become one of our monthly Legacy Partners during the month of May, every donation you make, month in and month out, for the next 12 months is going to be matched, dollar for dollar. Your giving for the full year will be maximized thanks to the matching-gift opportunity that’s available.
And as a new Legacy Partner, we’re going to send you a certificate so that you and your spouse can be our guests at an upcoming Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. We’ve started having those again—people coming out for those—getting great response to the Weekend to Remember. In the fall, we hope to have a full slate of events coming up. Your certificate is available to use any time you like, and it’s our thank-you gift for you becoming a Legacy Partner during the month of May. Again, your donations will be matched, dollar for dollar, for a full year when you join us this month.
Anybody who gives, whether it’s to become a new Legacy Partner or it’s a one-time donation, we have some gifts for you as well. We have a pair of books by Aaron and Jamie Ivey—a book for husbands and a book for wives—both books are called Complement, and it’s all about how we complement one another in marriage.
We [also] have a flash drive that includes some extended conversations with Dave and Ann and me about some of the significant lessons about marriage and family that I’ve learned over the course of 28-plus years as co-host of FamilyLife Today. The flash drive and the books are our gifts to you when you donate this month and help us take advantage of the matching-gift opportunity. You can do that online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. We want to say, “Thanks,” in advance, for your support.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to hear about how 16-year-old Alistair Begg met 13-year-old Susan Jones, how they fell in love, and we’ll hear the shocking story about the first time he kissed his bride-to-be. [Laughter] That’s coming up tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch; got some extra help today from Mark Ramey and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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