Back to the basics of authentic faith.
by John Vaughn as told to Muriel Larson
The English teacher at my high school took a special interest in me.
“Here’s a book you might enjoy reading, John,” he suggested. It was by Bertrand Russell, a famous atheist. I read it and wanted more.
One night Mr. Walters invited me to dinner at his home. I had the male lead in the school play at that time, and we were supposed to rehearse later. At the dinner table Mr. Walters and I had a long talk.
“That was a great book you gave me to read, Mr. Walters!” I exclaimed. “I particularly like Russell’s idea that our minds are like empty vessels that can be filled only by a certain amount of information. He said that throughout our lives, our minds have been filled with things involuntarily. Now I see the importance of filling my mind deliberately with ideas that will help me achieve certain goals.”
“That’s right, John,” my teacher agreed. “Now what you have to do is fill the vessel of your mind with thoughts that will cause it to overflow and rid your mind of refuse that is of no use to you.”
Though I was a minister’s son, I gave an atheistic teacher an open invitation to provide literature that would fill my mind with man’s philosophies and replace the religious ideas I had picked up from my family and church. He began supplying me with books as fast as I could read them.
I didn’t realize he was using me. Since I was the president of the student council, Mr. Walters knew that by influencing me, he could infect the whole student body with his philosophies.
And he did. I was in the band and on the student council, and I spoke to the student assemblies. As I absorbed humanistic philosophies, I passed them on to everyone.
Why was I so disillusioned with what I thought was Christianity so that I turned to humanism instead? Because I had a completely wrong understanding of it.
I had grown up believing that anyone who belonged to a “Christian” church was a Christian. As my family and I were moved from church to church by our denomination, I looked at the members’ lives and thought, What a bunch of hypocrites! Obviously Christianity doesn’t work!
I didn’t realize then that probably most of those I looked at weren’t really Christians — even as I wasn’t.
When I was eight years old, I was baptized. On my way back home afterward, I thought, I’m clean and pure now. I have a clean slate.
We passed a billboard advertising beer, and I wrenched my eyes away from it. No, I said to myself, I can’t allow myself ever to see such things as that again! I wasn’t about to lose the salvation I thought I had just gained.
What a futile struggle I had! By the time I was seventeen, I was ready to give up trying to keep my salvation. It was impossible for me to live the Christian life — and no wonder. I didn’t have it in the first place. Thus it was that I sought for truth in man’s wisdom rather than God’s.
“There’s a college not far from here where I’ll be teaching,” Mr. Walters told me one day. “Why don’t you apply to that one, John? Then I can continue to be your teacher.”
So I attended that college, where whatever faith in God I had had was completely obliterated.
But there I also met Brenda. At the beginning of the school year I didn’t particularly like her: She seemed too conservative and religious to me. During the second semester, however, we played together in the band, and I came to admire her. Brenda possessed a stability I didn’t have, and that appealed to me.
Foolishness and failures
I had the male lead in a play. After we put it on, I found that almost all my teachers gave me “A’s” on my report card. Hey, this isn’t because of my scholarship! I thought. Even these teachers who are so intelligent can be manipulated! So I began to develop the technique of manipulating people. How clever I thought I was!
By the end of the second year of college, Brenda and I could wait no longer to get married. But without the support of our parents, whom we hadn’t consulted, we couldn’t continue our education. Looking back on it now, I realize how foolish we were.
I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. While stationed at Tampa, Brenda and I began selling cookware during my time-off duty. Our value system was so fouled up! All that mattered to us was succeeding in a worldly way, making money, getting things. And we were successful in it too.
But as parents and mates, we were failures. When our second child was eleven days old, we put him into the daycare nursery, along with his older sister. Our marriage floundered.
During my second tour of duty overseas, one of the guys in the crew I supervised started talking to me about God. With my knowledge of religious jargon and philosophy, I made poor Gus the laughingstock of the other guys.
But something about Gus bothered me. I never could get him mad, not even when I gave him twice as much work as the others on the crew. He was the first guy I had ever met who not only professed Christianity but also lived it.
Then I met a guy named Gary at the USO one day. He was reading a big paperback book. As a pseudo intellectual, that interested me.
It was a Bible. Uh-oh, I thought belatedly.
“Are you a Christian?” he asked me.
“Yeah,” I answered, “My dad is a preacher.”
But later, my answer bothered me. Something about this guy was so Christ-like, I felt convicted about lying to him. The next day I confessed to him that I had lied, and he was so kind and gentle to me, I was amazed. Although Gary talked to me about God, I was more impressed by the quality of his life, as well as Gus’s. The way they lived meant more than what they said.
Truth about Jesus
So when Gus gave me a gospel tract one night, I was ready for it. As I read that tract, I remembered that my grandmother had told me the same things when I was eight years old — how God loved the world so much that He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins. Jesus allowed men to take Him captive and put Him to death on the cross.
But on the third day after His crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave. He was alive!
As I read that tract, I felt convicted about my life. I’m lost — I’m lost! I kept thinking.
For a month I worked to clean up my life. I still thought that was the way to salvation, though Guy and Gary tried to tell me that the way was through trusting in what Christ had done for me on the cross.
Then one day I confessed my complete failure to Gary. He took me to a home Bible study. After the study time, the believers there started praying, each person in the circle.
It came my turn. What could I say? I hadn’t talked to God for eight years.
“Lord,” I blurted out, “I’ve been a fool! I’ve tried to make myself what I thought I ought to be, but it’s all been foolishness. If Jesus Christ really died for my sins — and I believe He did — I want to give my whole life to You. I’ll be whatever You want me to be!”
Christ changed my whole life that night. He gave me immediate victory over cigarettes and other bad habits. Gary met with me, taught me the Bible, and showed me how to share my faith with others and live for Christ.
Two months after I surrendered my life to Christ, God called me to preach. Today I am the pastor of a Christ-centered church. More and more I see that true Christianity does work.
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