No Substitutes

When it comes to soul satisfaction, nothing else will satisfy but Jesus.

by John Vaughn as told to Muriel Larson

“Something is radically wrong with your baby’s head,” the doctor told my wife, Brenda, and me. “He has a rare problem called cranio-synostosis. The two plates in his head that are supposed to float freely and allow for expansion have grown together. That is why his head has grown very long and high, but not any wider. He will need an operation.”

“Well, is it essential that this operation be done?” I asked.

“If you don’t have it done,” the doctor answered, “and he finds out later in life that you could have, he will probably hate you.”

I looked at our three-month-old son and his already grotesquely shaped head. I had been so busy with my duties at the Air Force base and my moonlighting with selling pots and pans that I hardly knew the little fellow. Perhaps if Brenda and I had been with him more, we would have noticed this sooner.


The Air Force gave me temporary duty at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio so we could take John to the hospital there for the operation.

Brenda and I hadn’t really had time to talk for months. Now we suddenly realized how our relationship had deteriorated. “What in the world has happened to us, Brenda?” I wondered.

“I don’t know, John,” she answered. “But there’s got to be more to life than what we’re having!”

During those several weeks in Texas, I fell in love with my wife all over again and became better acquainted with our little son. The operation on his head was successful, and we returned to Tampa with the idea of giving up the pots and pans business.


On our return, however, I became manager of the other salespeople because of the record sales I had made. I had to hold regular meetings for them and for potential recruits. The meetings were conducted like church revivals, with peppy songs, testimonies of sales, an “evangelistic” message, and an invitation for recruits to join the group.

These meetings reminded me of my boyhood days, the revivals held in the churches my dad pastored. At these I often heard that Jesus Christ had died for our sins. Yet I somehow got the idea that salvation depended on my believing, being baptized, and living a good life, rather than on Jesus Christ.

When, as a teenager, I discovered I couldn’t live a perfect enough life, I became disillusioned, especially when I saw the hypocritical lives of others who professed to be Christians. So I turned wholeheartedly to the atheistic humanism that my literature teacher in high school fed me.

From that it was only one step to adopting a “me first” attitude and learning how to manipulate people for my own advancement. But while selling pots and pans, I discovered there was no real satisfaction in that either.

Real thing

During the next several years, I sought satisfaction in furthering my education and advancing my career in the Air Force. On my second tour of duty overseas, as an E-5 staff sergeant, I had a crew of twelve guys under me to service planes. One night a new guy named Gus came on duty. He started singing a Christian song.

“Oh, no,” I groaned. “Not one of those!” But Gus turned out to be the first guy I had ever met who didn’t just profess to be a Christian but actually lived it.

New light

Then I met another Christian, Gary, at the USO. One day he asked me, “Are you a Christian?”

I gave my stock answer: “Yeah, my dad is a preacher.” But there was something so Christ-like about Gary that afterward, for the first time, I felt guilty about telling that lie.

I told Gus I had met another Christian. “Oh, there are lots of Christians on the base now,” he told me. “We even have a born-again chaplain.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Aren’t they all Christians?”

“Oh, no,” he answered. “Not everybody who claims to be a Christian is one.”

For the first time in my life, I realized that those I had thought were hypocrites when I was young had probably not been Christians at all — and neither had I been. No wonder we hadn’t been able to live the Christian life as Gus did!

Divine plan

One night Gus gave me a piece of Christian literature called The Beast. As I read it, I remembered that my grandmother had told me the same things when I was eight years old. I suddenly realized that there was a difference between what she had believed and what I had grown up believing about Christianity.

Now all the experiences I had had in life — learning man’s philosophies, the sales work, the frustrations I had encountered — flashed through my mind. I knew God had let all these things happen to bring me to this point in my life.


What a fool I’ve been! I thought. What have I been working for all these years? I’ve practically thrown away my family because of my neglect of them. I’m lost!

During the next month, I tried to clean up my life, still thinking my salvation depended upon me. But finally I said to Gary, “I’m lost. What am I going to do?”

“Everybody is lost without Christ, John,” Gary said. “Satan has led you into all kinds of things that are nothing but substitutes for the truth about Jesus.”

“Yeah, but I was raised in the parsonage.”

“But your church and your beliefs have stood between you and the truth all your life,” Gary pointed out. “The simple message is that Jesus Christ died for your sins. If you’re willing to admit that you’re a sinner and trust Him as your Savior, you can be saved.”

Sinner’s prayer

That night Gary took me to a Bible study at a missionary’s home. Afterward, each person in the circle prayed, one by one.

What can I say? I wondered. I haven’t talked to God for eight years!

My turn came. “Lord,” I prayed, “I’ve been a fool! I’ve tried to make myself what I thought I ought to be, but I can’t. 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 entered my life that night and completely changed it. I had instant victory over bad habits.


During the next 90 days of my overseas tour, Gary prayed with me daily and taught me how to live for Christ and tell others about Him.

Although my wife wasn’t particularly pleased when I wrote home to tell her I had become a Christian, she, too, eventually got right with God. I completed my education at a Christian school, and now I am the pastor of a Christ-honoring church. Now I live each day in God’s power ­ the only substitute for my own.