Coming to ChristDecember 12, 2008
At age 15, John thought life was meaningless…until he committed his life to the Lord. Today pastor John Guest remembers his life in England, and how education and ambition could not fulfill him.
At age 15, John thought life was meaningless…until he committed his life to the Lord. Today pastor John Guest remembers his life in England, and how education and ambition could not fulfill him.
Coming to Christ
Bob: John Guest has a very vivid memory of the day his life took a turn, headed in a completely new direction. It was the day he trusted Christ.
John: I had a sense of destiny because I was headed somewhere, and I knew this – that between then and when I arrived in heaven, my life was going to count for something. Intuitively, I knew then. I didn't know any Bible verses, but I knew instinctively if Christ is in me, then my life is going to be substantially different.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, December 12th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. John Guest joins us today to talk about the turning point in his life. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. Do you think people in England wish that they had American accents?
Dennis: No. I don't even need to think about that one.
Bob: But don't you wish sometimes that you talked as mellifluously as our guest?
Dennis: No doubt about it. Let's let him talk.
Dennis: Our guest is Dr. John Guest. John, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
John: It's great to be back, and I should tell you this – that I so admired Americans. I grew up in the Second World War, saw you American chaps there with your uniforms and chewing gum and all the bright flashes and patches and, you know, there was a kind of a very swaggering bravado, which a young lad looked at and said, "Boy, those chaps" – we didn't use the word "cool" in those days, but "those chaps are cool." You know, and all the entertainment folks that we admired as teenagers – Elvis, Bill Haley and the Comets, the movie stars were Sinatra and Robert Mitchum, and so on. You know, we were heavily influenced by America.
And so my generation, looking at that, you know, I often tried to speak like an American, you know, and talk like that.
Bob: I wondered if you could do an American accent.
John: But back in those days, you know, it was an admirable accent. So, yes …
Dennis: Yeah, you kind of switch these days, though, don't you think?
Well, for those who don't know that voice is our guest, he is an author of more than 10 books, an evangelist, he is the pastor of Christchurch at Grove Farm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has been in ministry since 1961. He is proudly married to his wife, Kathleen, since 1967, so that's well over 40 years; has four daughters, and I want to take you back, because you grew up in Oxford, England, right?
John: Yes, yes.
Dennis: Take us back to your family. What kind of home did you grow up in? Did you grow up in a God-fearing home?
John: No, it was godless. Not godless in the sense that they were acting raucously or highly immorally, but my dad was an atheist. We never went to church. My mother believed in God, had been raised sort of connected to the church like a lot of English people are. But we never prayed, we never went to church, absolutely, positively never. So that was my home.
Bob: And did you even have questions about religious people? Were you even thinking God questions as a child?
John: Not at that time. What really changed everything in our home was this – my father committed suicide when I was 7. My mother was left with myself, as the oldest son, and two other boys, one quite close to me in age, and one was a baby. And we then became very poor. We weren't ever rich, but we became very poor. It was during the Second World War, and then I had some questions. You know, what happened to my dad? Where did he go? And there were no real answers.
Dennis: Did they tell you that he committed suicide?
John: No, no, no, no, no, no – no. That all got worked out later. In fact, I have a daughter who is a filmmaker, and she went back to England and researched his death because she knew there was always something sort of dark about it.
John: But she worked out that my father had taken his own life.
Bob: And did she have any sense of what had driven him to that?
John: She did, and there was probably some bad news between my mother and my dad.
Dennis: Well, coming out of that tragedy of your life and being so poor, what marked your life to ultimately see you coming into a relationship with Christ?
John: I think there were two or three things. One is, as I hit adolescence, you are asking the question, who am I? Where is this all going? Why am I going to school? And I remember at about age 15, 16, walking home from school and asking myself, "Why am I going to school?" It was a series of thoughts in split-second segments – Why am I going to school? To get a good education. Why do you want a good education? So you can get a good job. Why do you want a good job? So that you can earn good money. Why do you want good money? So that you can live securely and have some measure of happiness. And then what? Then I was at the end of it all. You mean that's it? There has to be something more. There has to be something else, but I had no answers.
Then I ran into a chap who told me about Jesus. His name was Ray Wilson. I honor this man. He gave me the basics of the Gospel in a conversation, as a lad, that nobody has ever added to – not theological training, not listening to other preachers. He gave me the bare essentials of the Gospel.
Dennis: Who was he?
John: He was a chap in Oxford that I was working alongside as a lad. And he was a grown man in his 20s, and I came out with a mouthful of foul language, trying to be a man like the other men who swore profusely.
And he said, "John, when you work with me, I'd just as soon you don't swear." And I said, "Why not?" He said, "I'm a Christian." I said, "Well, so am I." He said, "Well, why would you think that?" And I said, "Well, I'm English, and I believe in God." And in those days, that would have made sense – to be English is to be a Christian.
He pointed out that a Jew that is English living in London wouldn't thank you to call them a Christian. So I said to him, "Well, what makes you think you're a Christian?" He said, "Well, take the word "Christian." A Christian is a Christ-ian. Like a footballer, that it's like a soccer player is into soccer, a Christ-ian is into Christ.
And right there and then, if that was a true definition, and it made sense – he didn't get into any Bible verse or anything else, I knew I was not a Christ-ian. I knew I was not into Christ.
And the next thing he told me that was the first Bible verse I ever heard that, like, lit the sky. He said Jesus said, "I've come that you might have life and have it more abundantly." And like the woman at the well who wasn't quite sure what it was that Jesus was talking about when He said He'd give her living water, I – and I didn't know that story then, either, but I didn't know what he was talking about, but something resonated in me that said, "I want what he's talking about. Whatever that life is, that really on the inside is what I'm looking for. And all the other silly escapades that I get up to, that's what I'm wanting.
And so we argued for about a year on and off, and then we moved to London. But in those argumentative years, I was picking up the essentials of what the Christian faith was about.
Dennis: Now, when you say "argued," you had some spirited discussions with him about …?
John: Oh, I was ignorant. I was rude, I was aggressive, I was smart-mouthed, I tried to ridicule him.
Bob: How old were you at the time – 17, 18 years old?
John: No, no, no, no, no – only 15, 16, just in that range.
Bob: All right, okay.
John: Yes, I was just very arrogant and smart-mouthed.
Bob: You had to notice, in addition to the arguing that was going on, that there was something about his life that was attractive.
John: What was really attractive is that he had the courage to keep on being who he was. He wasn't handsome, he wasn't cool with the women, he wasn't athletic, he wasn't even cool relationally, but he never backed down. You know, most of us can be manipulated into keeping our mouths shut and going down some other track verbally or with our behavior just to be accepted by the crowd. He was willing to stand alone, and I didn't know anybody else who could take the heat like he took it. Not just from me, because I was just a kid, but from the other guys as well. He never backed down, and I admired that courage.
Dennis: So you moved to London.
John: We moved to London, the family moved, yes.
Dennis: And what happened there that changed the course of your life?
John: Well, a girl across the street …
Bob: That will change the course of anybody's life right there.
John: Across the street on a warm Good Friday afternoon, I'm in the front room of my house playing the piano, and she sends her little sister over to say did I know such-and-such a song? And I didn't. I said, "You send your big sister over here" – because she was gorgeous – "to teach me how to play it." I took her to a movie that night, and we began dating.
And I don't know how long after that it was – she dumped me, but I was brokenhearted, and she's just living across the street, I mean, literally, across the street. So I found out which church it was she went to and went to church to try and catch up with this – Shirley White was her name.
Dennis: So you weren't trying to find God, you were trying to catch up.
John: No, no, no, no.
Bob: You were trying to find Shirley.
John: Yeah, trying to find – but God was after me. I walked into that church, an Anglican Church, sat in the back right-hand corner as you go in, didn't know when to stand, when to sit, the whole thing was completely alien to me, but when the man got in the pulpit and preached, it was with passion, authority, it was manly, and he was preaching the same message that Ray Wilson had told me a couple of years before. But it was preaching, and he was a good preacher.
So I went more and more frequently to hear him. So that was the next big step. Then what happened was this – Billy Graham came to town in 1954, it's my 18th year. I'm about to turn 18. Billy Graham turns up and his picture is everywhere, all over London, and I knew what he was about, but had no inclination to go. And the minister, Canon Druitt [sp], got me at the door as I'm going out with my blue suit and – I was, you know, cool in those days, in the mod sense of the word for the British, you know, the Carnaby Street kind of a glitzy – there was a thing going on, and I was …
Bob: You were a "dandy," isn't that what they like to call them?
John: Right. And he said, "Would you come and hear Billy Graham this week? We're going as a church." And I said, "Yes." Well, I rushed to make it. I missed the bus on Monday. Tuesday, I went with – I was training to be an engineer – went with another guy who was training to be an engineer with me, and that night Billy Graham preached. And same message Ray Wilson had told me, the vicar had preached to me at this Anglican Church, but then he called for the response, which – I mean, this was the beginning of the rest of my life, absolutely the beginning of the rest of my life.
Bob: So when Billy Graham called for the invitation, what did you feel at the time, do you remember?
John: I thought "He can't mean it. Nobody in England, I mean, nobody here, not me, not anybody else, is going to stand up in front of everybody who is here and walk down the front and make a public spectacle of themselves. It's not going to happen. He doesn't mean it."
I was trying to work out what was going on, because I'd never been anywhere that was – it wasn't like church. I had limited knowledge of church because I'd only just started going. But the idea that anybody is going to stand up in front of everybody else and walk to the front of an arena – it was, like, beyond belief.
The way I thought of it was this – this is Yankee hard sell. He is asking us to do this, but there is some other trick in the book. He is going to get us to do something else, because nobody is going to move.
Well, they start singing "Just as I Am," without one plea, and people start moving forward. By the second verse, it's clear he meant it, and people are doing it. So I said to my friend, Richard Martin, I said, "I don't know about you, Rich, but I'm going forward." He said, "I'll come with you." And I don't know what it meant to him, but I walked forward and that night gave my life over to Christ.
And the walking forward was really, really important. I mean, if I'd have gone out of there a coward – you know, courage is such a big issue with me, because I hate cowardice, I hate being a coward, I hate backing down, I hate not saying the thing that needs to be said or doing the thing that needs to be done – not doing the thing that needs to be done, I just hate it. I hate it when people chicken out. It just – it's just one of those things.
So if I'd have walked out of there and not gone forward, I'd have been most discouraged with myself, disgusted with myself.
Bob: John, some people go to an event like that, hear that call, walk forward, walk back, the next day nothing has really changed. They were caught up in a moment, but there wasn't a real change in their lives. How did you know it really was different for you?
John: For me, number one, I was exhilarated. It had been a battle for me for about three years from when Ray Wilson first witnessed to me. I'd been battling it out.
Dennis: Were you exhilarated about forgiveness?
John: I was exhilarated about three or four things – immediately, that I was forgiven, because I had all kinds of filth and garbage in my past. The second thing was that I knew heaven was my home; that when I died, I was going to go to be with the Lord in heaven. In other words, I had a sense of destiny because I was headed somewhere, and I knew this – that between then and when I arrived in heaven, my life was going to count for something. Intuitively, I knew that.
I didn't know any Bible verses, hardly at all, but I knew instinctively if Christ is in me, then my life is going to be substantially different. But spiritually – you know that line, "His Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God as children and heirs," I knew that. His Spirit did witness with my spirit. So when you ask me, Bob, how do you know that you knew that you were different, what I've just told you is a whole lot more than I could have put words to then.
John: But in looking back at it, I knew it, that I knew.
Dennis: And, John, I want you to call for the commitment right now.
Bob: It seems like we ought to make a call here, don't you think?
Dennis: I have to believe someone driving down the road, maybe it's a trucker, maybe an executive, who knows – mom on carpool or maybe at home on an iPod, taking a walk – call for the commitment. To that person who has made the journey, and maybe they've been witnessed to over a period of years like you were, maybe they're hearing it for the first time.
John: I can't tell you how excited I am to do this, because there is one person, and even as I say that, that person listening to our voices knows it. So if you're driving a car, just see Jesus sitting in the car with you, because He's real, He's there. You make my words your words. If you are that person, you make my words your words. Say to Him, "Jesus, I need you. I need you to come into my life and fill the emptiness. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Lord, I ask you to forgive me. I've made such a mess of everything. I've fouled so much up, I've just fouled it all up. Please, Lord Jesus, I turn from that mess, and I turn to You, and I ask You, come into my life, fill me with Your Spirit. Take possession of me, make me Your very own. Right now, Lord Jesus, I give myself to you. I trust and believe that You love me; that this is a moment for me to get real with You, that You died for my sins that I might be forgiven, and that You want to come and dwell in me and fill the emptiness and the loneliness and drive out the darkness and fill me with Your life. Please, Lord Jesus, I turn it all over to you right now right here. Amen.
Dennis: And to that person who has just made that commitment, those same benefits that a young lad of 18, 19 years old walking the streets of London after hearing the Gospel at Billy Graham's Crusade, the same benefits are yours – you're forgiven. You've got a family; you belong. You have a destiny, a purpose for being here. And then that last illustration that John shared – you have a Heavenly Father who is going to come, and He'll be near, and He's not a weak Father. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Bob: Yes, and this is the season when we celebrate His coming near. I always think of the last verse of the Christmas carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem." "O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, their great glad tidings tell, O come to us, abide in us, Our Lord Emanuel."
And, you know, you think about Christmas, that's really the message – not that Jesus came and was born in a manger 2,000 years ago. That's significant, obviously, but the reason it's significant is because he can come to you and be born in you today the same way that John experienced it back many decades ago.
I want to encourage our listeners – we have a book that we would love to send you that's called "Pursuing God." It's a guide for those who are interested in having a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you've never trusted Christ, and you would like to have the kind of transformation that John talked about, if you'd like to understand the message of the Gospel and understand the ministry of Jesus and the whole idea of redemption and forgiveness and transformation, this book lays it out for you, and we'd love to send it to you at no cost. All you have to do is call 1-800-FLTODAY and say, "I want to be a Christian, and I'd like that book," and we're happy to send it out to you.
Again, the book is called "Pursuing God." Call 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and just say, "I want to become a Christian, and I'd like that book I heard you talking about on the radio, and we're happy to send it out to you, and we trust that God will use it in your life to help you understand the message of the Gospel and to begin the process of transformation, and we'd love to hear from you.
I also want to mention to our listeners, Dennis, that today is the last opportunity they have to order a Weekend to Remember gift certificate to attend one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences this spring at a discounted price. We're making these gift certificates available in time for Christmas; thought it would be a great idea for you to give your spouse a weekend away together as a Christmas gift this year.
So we discounted the price a little bit. Today is the last day you can take advantage of that, and if you're interested in attending one of these upcoming getaway weekends for couples, where you get practical biblical help for your marriage, and you do it in a setting that is relaxing and enjoyable, again, go to our website. It's FamilyLifeToday.com, right there is the information you need about how you can order one of these gift certificates – FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY, and someone on our team will let you know how you can have one of these gift certificates sent out to you.
Then, finally, before we wrap things up this week, let me remind our regular listeners, we have heard from many of you who have contacted us over the last several days to let us know that you are able to make a year-end contribution to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We understand that with the economic hardships that many families have experienced this fall, some of our listeners are not able to make a donation as maybe they've done in years past, or maybe they've wanted to do this year and just simply can't, we are so grateful for those of you who have contacted us to say, "We want to stand with you. We want to make sure FamilyLife Today stays on this station and is on other stations all across the country.
So thanks for your financial support. You need to know that because of the generosity of some good friends of ours, every donation you have made, so far, has been matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis, and that goes up to a total of $425,000 throughout the rest of this month. We're hoping to take full advantage of that matching gift. If we're going to do that, well, frankly, we need to hear from all of you. If it's a $10 donation or a $50 donation or $100 donation, it's real simple – just call 1-800-FLTODAY and say, "You guys can put $20 on my credit card," or "I want to make a $50 donation," whatever you are able to do, and I want to make sure we're not encouraging you to go any more in debt to make your donation, just the credit card is a convenient way to do that, hopefully, and you get it paid off at the end of the month.
You can also make a donation online at FamilyLife.com, and, once again, we are so grateful for whatever you are able to do – $10 or $20 or $50 or $100 or $500 – whatever you can do at year-end, we appreciate your financial support.
And, with that, we've got to wrap things up for this week. I hope you can join us back on Monday when we're going to hear from bestselling author, Karen Kingsbury, as she talks about the priority of faith and family and marriage. If you've read any of her books, I hope you'll tune it. I hope you'll invite others to join us, as well, for the Monday edition of FamilyLife Today.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend, we'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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