Best-selling author Josh McDowell discusses his devastating childhood in which his alcoholic father abused his mother, and how his emotional pain led to his conviction that God had abandoned him. Josh recounts how he eventually came to faith in Christ and found healing from his father wounds through a relationship with his Heavenly Father. (Part 2 of 2)
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Mr. Josh McDowell: At 11 years old, I went to the corn bin and I crawled in and I buried myself up to my neck. And that’s when I prayed to die. You ever felt alone? Ever felt abandoned? Have you ever felt like it wouldn’t matter to anyone if you lived or died? That’s how I felt at 11 years old. And at that moment I started slamming the door on God. I cursed God. ‘Cause I felt God had abandoned me–if God existed.
John Fuller: Josh McDowell, describing a terrible moment in his life which explains his world view before he began researching the claims of Jesus Christ. This is Focus on the Family with your host, Focus President and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, before Josh McDowell became such an incredible author, speaker, and defender of the faith, he was a young man with very deep wounds, as we heard in that clip. His father was known as “The Town Drunk”, he was abusive to his entire family, and Josh says his father’s behavior actually made his mother die of a broken heart.
As early as age 11, Josh was suicidal already, and tried to kill himself by burying himself in one of those large corn bins at their family farm. He was in there for like three hours, and no one came looking for him, so he eventually gave up and dug himself out.
If you missed part one of Josh’s presentation last time, get in touch with us! We can send you the entire message on CD or an audio download, or you can get the Focus on the Family broadcast app on your smartphone.
John: Yeah, you’ll find all of this at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800 the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Last time, Josh explained that he went off to college a very bitter young man. He met a group of Christians there, which is a great thing, and even though he saw something in them that he desperately wanted, just hearing the name of God angered him because he felt so abandoned by God! But these new friends challenged Josh to study the Bible, and decide for himself who God was. And as he set out to refute the Word of God, he discovered instead that it was true - that Jesus lived, that He was the Son of God, that He was crucified, and that He did it all because He loved us. And today we’ll hear what Josh decided to do with what he learned.
John: Yeah and we’re gonna roll back just a moment or two, and then hear the balance of an inspiring presentation from Josh McDowell, on today’s Focus on the Family.
Josh: You say, “Now c’mon, Josh! You’re starting to conclude that He is the Son of God, the Bible is true, and that would cause a crisis?” Yes. Probably the most major crisis I’ve ever had in my life because this was my crisis: Is it true? Or do I so want to be loved, I am willing to be psychologically manipulated into believing anything? Or is it true? Because even as a non-believer I realized, if it is not true then love is not real and neither is forgiveness. And I concluded as a non-believer, if He is the Son of God, then I will follow Him the rest of my life with every breath I ever breathe. But if He is not, then I will walk away and never ever turn back. That’s when my attitude changed. I changed from being antagonistic to I truly believe I became an honest enquirer. Not to prove it right or prove it wrong, but simply to ask, “Is it true or is it false?” and to live with the consequences.
I want you to follow me through with this argument. In Luke 24, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, He says, “Men, everything that is written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, in the Psalms, must be fulfilled.” What Jesus was doing was referring to messianic prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah. There were 333 prophecies, or additions to prophecies, about who the coming Messiah would be, all fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and these prophecies were written down at least 500 years before he was born.
Had a professor say to me, “I don’t believe that. I don’t believe these prophecies written down about the time of Jesus, they were written down after his life so they would coincide with his birth and everything.” I said, “That sounds pretty good, unless you want to think.” (laughter)
I said, “Sir, the Septuagint”–don’t let that big word throw you–that’s the title given to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, contains all the prophecies. And I said, “Sir, history confirms it was completed at least 200 to 250 years before Christ was ever born. So if you say it’s not 500 years, you got the same problem with 250 years.”
I looked at these prophecies as God writing an address to help a skeptic like me. Your address separates you from 6.5 billion people alive. Think of that. If you’re address is a P.O. Box, you don’t have to have an identity crisis. It separates you from 6 billion people alive. In the same way, God wrote an address to identify His son, and He did it through prophecy.
Now I want to walk you through some of these. Now, I gotta warn ya, I’m gonna talk fast. I’m gonna talk faster than you probably ever heard anyone talk in your life unless you went to an auctioneer. (laughter) And you’re gonna have to think fast to keep…trust me you’re gonna have to think fast.
Let’s look at just a handful of these prophecies all fulfilled in Christ written down over 500 years before He was born. We’ll go back before time. In Genesis 3:15 God gave the first indication who the Messiah would be, it said He’d be born of the seed of the woman. Everybody else in the Bible is referred to as the seed of the man, the only one referred to as the seed of the woman is the Messiah why? The virgin birth.
Then God narrows it down further, He says that “My Son will not only be a seed of the woman….” but Noah had more than just a boat, he had three kids: Ham, Shem and Japheth. Every nation in the world can be traced back to one of these individuals. Now God eliminates two-thirds of the nations of the world when He says, “You can know who my Son is because He’ll be born of the seed of the woman, the lineage of Shem.”
Now in the lineage of Shem, God called a man out of the Ur of the Chaldees by the name of Abraham. And now God says, I’m gonna narrow it down further who my Son is, because He’ll be born of the seed of the woman, the lineage of Shem, the descendants of Abraham.”
Now Abraham had eight children, now God eliminates seven-eighths of the family line, of the descendants of Abraham when He says that, “My Son will be the seed of the woman, the lineage of Shem, the descendants of Abraham, the line of Isaac.”
Now Isaac had two sons. Now God eliminates fifty percent of the line of Isaac, and if you’ve studied math you’ll see the historical probability building up when God says, “My son will not only be of the seed of the woman, the lineage of Shem, the descendants of Abraham, the line of Isaac, but the line of Jacob.”
Now, Jacob had twelve sons out of which developed the twelve tribes of Israel. Now God eliminates eleven-twelfths of the tribes of Israel in Genesis 49:10, when He says that, “My son will be the seed of the woman, the lineage of Shem, the descendants of Abraham, the line of Isaac, line of Jacob, tribe of Judah.”
Now within the tribe of Judah there were many family lines. Isaiah 11:1, God eliminates every single family line but one when He says that, “My son will be the seed of the woman, the lineage of Shem, the descendants of Abraham, the line of Isaac, line of Jacob, tribe of Judah, but of the family of Jesse.”
Now Jesse had eight children. Now God eliminates seven-eighths of the family line of Jesse when He says that, “My son will be the seed of the woman, the lineage of Shem, the descendants of Abraham, the line of Isaac, line of Jacob, tribe of Judah, but of the family of Jesse and the house of David.”
Then God narrows it down further in Psalm 22 - a very unusual prophecy about 1012 B.C. - where He says that, “You can know who My son is, because He’ll be born of the seed of the woman, the lineage of Shem, the descendants of Abraham, the line of Isaac, line of Jacob, tribe of Judah, family of Jesse, house of David, and He’ll be crucified. His hands and his feet pierced against a tree.” Somebody says, “Huh? C’mon Josh, thousands of people were crucified.” I said, that’s right, but that method of crucifixion was not put into effect until 800 years after the prophecy.
Then God narrows it down further in Zechariah 11, Psalm 41, God... In one day, twenty-some prophecies were all fulfilled in Christ, here are seven: God says, “You can tell who My son is, because He’ll be born of the seed of the woman, the lineage of Shem, the descendants of Abraham, line of Isaac, line of Jacob, tribe of Judah, family of Jesse, house of David, be crucified, betrayed, by a friend, thirty pieces of silver, thrown on the floor, in the temple, used to buy a burial plot.”
And then God narrows it down further. He says, in Micah 5:2, out of all the cities in the world, He eliminated every single city but one when He says that, “My son will be of the seed of the woman, the lineage of Shem, the descendants of Abraham, line of Isaac, line of Jacob, tribe of Judah, family of Jesse, house of David, be crucified, betrayed, by a friend, thirty pieces of silver, thrown on the floor, in the temple, used to buy a burial plot, but His entrance to humanity will be in that little tiny city of Bethlehem, Ephrathah.” Less than a thousand inhabitants lived there when that prophecy was made.
I had a professor say to me, “Oh c’mon, if God was that smart, He could’ve told you when it would happen.” I said, “He did!” (laughter) I said in Malachi 3:1 - you might call it Mala-chee - but I said, “In Malachi 3:1, God said, ‘You can know who My Son is because He’ll be born of the seed of the woman, the lineage of Shem, the descendants of Abraham, line of Isaac, line of Jacob, tribe of Judah, family of Jesse, house of David, be crucified, betrayed, by a friend, thirty pieces of silver, thrown on the floor, in the temple, used to buy a burial plot, born in the city of Bethlehem, Ephrathah, and it will all take place before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.’“ When did that happen? 70 A.D. Three hundred and thirty-three prophecies, but we didn’t have time for me to do all of them tonight. (laughter) All fulfilled in one person, Jesus Christ.
Somebody said, “It’s all a coincidence.” (Applause) Yeah, very good. They said “It’s all a coincidence!” I said, “A coincidence?” I said, “Dr. Peter Stoner in his book, Science Speaks, used the modern science of probability to check out the probability of only eight of these prophecies being fulfilled in any one individual in history. The American Scientific Affiliation checked out his statistics and said they were accurate. He said it would be one in every one times ten to the seventeenth power. That’s one in every quadrillion possibility.” Now I’m sure your minds understand that, mine doesn’t, I’m from Texas. (laughter) So, Peter Stoner gave an illustration how to understand that. Take the state of Texas, the entire state of Texas, two feet deep of silver dollars. All over, just pile ‘em all over, two feet deep of silver dollars. Take one silver dollar, put a little red check on it, then throw it in, use bulldozers, mix up the entire state. Then take a man in El Paso and blindfold him. (laughter) And let him start walking from El Paso, wading through two feet of silver dollars, over to Corpus Christie, up to Lubbock, down to Galveston, over to Houston, up to Dallas, over to Lubbock. And any time randomly he just stops totally blindfolded, reaches down and picks up the checked silver dollar is the same probability that only eight of these prophecies could be fulfilled in any one individual. This is when, for the first time in my life, I admitted, “it is true: I am loved.” For God became man, and His name is Jesus. That led to another conflict in my life: to accept it, or to reject it.
I returned to the University. I couldn’t sleep. Finally, that December the 19th at 8:30 at night I put it to the test and I became a Christian. Somebody said, “How do you know?” I was there. (Laughter) I mean, I’m serious. It changed my life. I got alone with a friend mine, made sure my other friends weren’t watching. I was a coward, and I prayed four things that I truly believe transformed my life in a relationship with a living God who is passionate about a relationship with me and wanted to spend eternity with me.
I said, “Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me.” The most humbling thought I’ve ever had, happened before I ever became a Christian, was when I realized as a University student that if I were the only person alive Jesus still would have died for me.
Most people think I came to Christ through all the evidence and everything. Folks, I didn’t. I did not come to Christ because of any of the evidence. All the evidence that I’ve documented in my books and so many other more capable men and women have documented in their books, all that evidence never brought me to Christ. All it did, God the Holy Spirit used to show me that it was true.
John: Josh McDowell on Focus on the Family. And you can get a CD of this broadcast, for a monthly pledge of any amount, when you call 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459, or make your pledge and request that complimentary CD at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Now, as Josh continues, he’s recalling a time when, at age 11, he tried to kill himself at his family’s farm by burying himself in a large bin of corn.
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Josh: You see when I walked out of that corn bin and I started to slam that door on God, by the time I got to the University there was only about that much of the door left open. God used the evidence to stick His foot in the doorway. He got my attention with the evidence. Once I was convinced it was true, then and only then did I consider the message of what brought me to Christ was Jeremiah 31:1 where God said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love with tender kindness I have drawn you.”
It was the love of God that brought me to Christ, not the evidence. But it was the evidence that brought me to the love of God.
Second I said, “I confess as what the Bible calls a sinner”, nobody had to tell me. All you had to do was spend a day with me. I knew there were things in my life incompatible with a holy, just, righteous God. And I knew one thing: I knew the Bible was true, I knew that. And I knew the Bible said that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I said, “I confess my sins. Forgive me based upon what Jesus did.”
Third thing I prayed and I didn’t know a whole lot, but I knew the Bible said, “But to as many as received Him, to them gave ye the right to become a child of God; to those who called upon His name, to those who profess His name.” So I said, “Right now…” the best way I know how and I didn’t know a whole lot, I said, “I place my trust in you as Savior and Lord. I accept your forgiveness. Come into my life.” The last thing I prayed was just, just - just “Thank you.” Nothing happened. Wasn’t any bolt of lightning. I didn’t rush out and buy a harp.
Well, something did happen. Almost immediately I felt like I was going to vomit. (Laughter) I did. I thought I was going to toss my cookies. I hear all these people talk about when they came to Jesus they were overwhelmed with joy and everything. I came to Jesus and I wanted to throw up. (Laughter) And I think for two reasons. One, and I remember thinking this thought, “Josh, have you made an emotional decision to trust Christ you will later regret intellectually?” And that scared me.
But more than that, to be honest with you, I was afraid of what my friends would say. I thought they would laugh at me, and they did. The next morning after I accepted Christ, I’m in Union City, Michigan, in front of Fabiano’s Ice Cream Parlor and here comes Earl, a friend of mine walking down the street. I said, “Earl, you won’t believe it! Last night I accepted Christ as my Savior Lord!” I don’t think he believed it. He just looked at me and laughed and walked away. It crushed me. I never shared Christ with anyone for six months. It so hurt and crushed me.
Nine years later, I’m speaking at Phoenix, AZ community church there, I see this man and I stop and I say, “What in the world is your name?”
And he said, “Earl.”
I said, “What are you doing here?”
He said, “You remember eight years ago when I laughed - nine years ago when I laughed at you?”
I said, “Yeah, you don’t forget that.”
He said, “I couldn’t either.”
He said, “You haunted me for eight years.” He said, “Last year I gave my heart to Christ.” And then he turned around and introduced to all 5,000 people his father and his brother who he had led to Christ.
But you see? When I made that decision to trust Christ, I didn’t have the faith, the experience, to understand that most of my friends would come to Christ. I mean I should have known that. I mean I am kind of a normal person. I’m part-way intelligent. I’m reasonable, and if I’m interested why wouldn’t my friends be? They’re reasonable, they’re intelligent, then why wouldn’t they be interested? Well, I found out they were. Just somebody had to go first, and I was the first nominal.
In about six months, a year and a half, my entire life was transformed. I’m gonna close with one area and I’m not proud of it - I’m ashamed of it. It goes back to my father: I hated him. I just wanted him to die. I really believe if I were 15-years-old today in the same situation with today’s culture, I would be a shooter. I really believe it. I had so much anger. I despised my father so much and people around me, I’d have been a shooter.
Starting about 8, 9-years-old, I cannot remember, I must have, but I can never remember going to bed, no matter where I was, without plotting my father’s death. How I could kill him without being caught by the police.
After I became a Christian, I finished my first two years at Kellogg College, and I transferred to Wheaton College. I was in a serious car accident. A drunk - a stationary at 55 miles an hour went right up over the back of that Maverick. I twisted the iron in those seats back eight inches and my head went over the back of the seat. Every tendon or whatever they call it from my ankles to my neck were torn apart in my body, but it didn’t affect me for a whole day. I got out of the car I was okay. Boom! It hit me the next morning. I was out.
They took me to the hospital and when they took me out of the hospital they called my father. They were taking me 127 miles home in the ambulance. They called my father. Well, he was drunk and so he thought I was dying. I wasn’t, I was just hurting a lot. The ambulance pulled into the farm house, they took me and strapped me in the bed with steel all around me and big traction and wheels and everything, and I couldn’t move my body. All I could do was flash my eyes. And I could hear the ambulance leave.
I would say in about five minutes, my father came into that room. And immediately, I noticed he was sober. Second, he was crying. I had never seen my father show any emotion except when he was angry at my mother. He didn’t say anything. He came in the door - it was probably about from here to that microphone - walked over to the bed, then he just paced back and forth back alongside my bed. Here I am like this and all I could do was look like this with my eyes.
Now being strapped in bed like that it seemed like it was an hour. It was probably no more than three or four minutes. I don’t know what the time was, but all of a sudden my father just stopped and he leaned right, just bawling, just leaned right over the top literally with his tears falling on me. And I’m strapped in bed like this and he said, “Son, how can you love a father such as I?” I said, “Dad, six months ago I hated you. I despised everything that you stood for.”
You see after I made that decision to trust Christ, I looked at my father right in the eyes and I said, “Dad, I love you.” That scared me. You see I didn’t want to love my dad. Even as a new Christian I chose to hate the man who killed my mother and destroyed my family. And I found myself saying to the man I chose to hate “I love you.” That’s when I knew it was real. I wasn’t used to that. I was used to loving those I wanted to love and hating those I wanted to hate. I was not accustomed to be able to love those I chose to hate. That’s when I knew it was real.
And I said, “Dad, I love you.” And then I shared with him about Jesus Christ and I said, “Dad, I’ve concluded that God became man and His name is Jesus.” And I said, “Dad, God loves you. He is passionate about a relationship with you.”
About 45 minutes later, it was one of the greatest joys of my life when my own daddy, who knew me said to me, “Son, if God can do in my life what I’ve seen Him do in yours I want to give Him the opportunity.” Oh, men and women, right there my daddy prayed with me. You talk about joy. Most people don’t have this much joy in their entire lifetime. I had it in one moment.
My father prayed a very simple prayer, very down to earth. As best as I can recall he prayed this, he said, “God, if you’re God and Christ is your Son, and if He died on the cross for me and can forgive me for what I’ve done to my family and if you can do in my life what I’ve seen you do in the life of my son, then I want to trust you as Savior and Lord.”
My life was basically changed in six months, a year, a year and a half, and still areas being changed. The life of my daddy was changed right before my eyes. It was like somebody reached down and turned on a light bulb. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve never saw it before and I’ve never seen it since - such a rapid change. Usually, it takes place over a number of months, a year or two. But my daddy only touched alcohol, he was a wino to the core, once after that. 14 months later he died.
Because after forty something years of drinking, his- three fourths of his stomach had to be removed and I think it was his liver was totally destroyed. But in that 14 months, scores of men and women in that little tiny town in the surrounding area committed their lives to Jesus Christ because of the changed life of the town drunk, my daddy.
I’ve come to one conclusion: that if you dig deep, you will find that God became man and His name is Jesus and that is real, it is relevant, and it is credible. But I want to ask you a question. Do you know Jesus personally? You say, “Well, Josh, I hope so.” Then you probably don’t. You say, “Well, I think so.” Then you probably don’t. “Well I believe so.” Then you probably don’t. You see, if you know Jesus Christ personally, you know you know Him personally. Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. It’s a Creator personal God who is passionate about a relationship with you. Isn’t that amazing?
John: What a wonderful ending to this personal testimony from Josh McDowell. This is Focus on the Family. And Jim, listening to Josh, I’m just amazed at the way that God worked in his life and how God works in everyone’s life.
Jim: Isn’t it remarkable the way He pursues us? God never gave up on Josh, and He didn’t give up on Josh’s father either! What a beautiful testimony of the way God works.
And I know many of you have lived through traumatic circumstances, many of us have! And I know it’s easy to assume that either God doesn’t exist, or he just doesn’t care. But as Josh learned, God is real, and He loves you! He is pursuing you with the same passion that He showed in pursuing Josh. And remember this, too, there is overwhelming evidence to show that God sent Jesus Christ, His Son, to this earth to pay the price for our sin. And He wants to have a relationship with you. That is the Gospel!
So, if you’d like to know Christ, and know that your sins are forgiven, let me invite you to pray a simple prayer right now. It goes like this: “Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me. I confess my sins. Forgive me based upon what You did on the cross. I place my trust in you as my Savior and Lord. I accept your forgiveness. Come into my life. Amen.”
John: Amen, yeah.
Jim: And it’s that simple but that amazing. As Josh said earlier, quoting from the New Testament book of John, “To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” He is the all-loving Father, and we can be His children. What a privilege!
And if you prayed that prayer with us, or you’d like to learn more about what it means to be a Christian, let me encourage you to contact us for an e-booklet called Coming Home: An Invitation to Join God’s Family. It’ll give you all of the information you need to take this relationship forward.
You know, our research shows that almost 500 people a day commit, or recommit, their lives to Jesus Christ through the work we do here at Focus on the Family. That, to me, is one of the most, if not the most important things that we do. And because we’re listener-supported, we’re inviting you to partner with us in spreading the gospel. The best way for you to do that is by helping us with a monthly commitment, a monthly pledge. That’s the kind of support that we need from you!
And when you make a monthly pledge of any amount, we’ll send you a CD of this complete program from Josh McDowell, so you can listen to it again or share it with a friend.
John: Call us and donate. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. That’s 800-232-6459 or make your monthly pledge online and request the CD at focusonthefamily.com/radio. And be sure to look for Josh’s newly updated classic book Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Well have a great weekend and be sure to join us again on Monday. You’ll hear how a woman began reaching out to her neighbors by putting a turquoise picnic table in her front yard.
Mrs. Kristin Schell: And maybe, you know, we could start doing our ordinary activities - dinner, pizza on, you know, paper plates, homework, bubble blowing - you know, things that our family was already doing. But what if we were to do it in a more visible way?
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Josh McDowellView Bio
A former agnostic, Josh McDowell is now a well-known Christian apologist, a popular public speaker and an award-winning author who has influenced the lives of millions of people around the world. He has written or co-written nearly 150 books which have been translated into more than 10 dozen languages including the best-selling Evidence That Demands a Verdict and More Than a Carpenter. Josh and his wife, Dottie, have four children and 10 grandchildren. Learn more about Josh by visiting his website, josh.org.