The bedroom door flew open. My oldest brother stood in the doorway sobbing. "Phillip! Wake up. Jack's dead. He's killed himself. He blew himself up in his car with gasoline." I had never before seen my brother cry, but I watched him walk away that night sobbing uncontrollably. Both shocked and sad, I sat there wondering one question…why? Why did my brother Jack kill himself?
After the funeral, still another question haunted me…where was my brother Jack now? The body that we placed in the ground was nothing more than a clay shell. The things that had made Jack a person were no longer there. He was gone. One day he was alive, living in Los Angeles. The next day, I found myself struggling to see his scarred features through a plastic body bag. I realized at that moment just how temporary life really is.
I admired Jack more than anyone else I knew. He was a big, muscular guy---tough with the men and charming with the ladies. He had earned my respect as a fighter in high school, with his "black leather jacket" image and "James Dean" charisma. All through school, I imitated him and followed in his footsteps. Jack was cool and I wanted to be like just like him. He seemed to have it totally together…and then he died. What could have made him so hopeless that he'd take his own life? All I had was questions. It wasn't until my freshman year at Michigan State that I finally got some answers.
It all started with a question that a guy in my dorm asked me one day: "If you died tonight and stood before God, and He asked you why He should let you into His Heaven, what would you say?" It was a pretty heavy question and I was somewhat taken off guard. I wasn't used to being asked such direct questions about God, so I rattled off some "conditioned" response about God's love and forgiveness. But even after I had left his room thinking that I had successfully evaded his question, I couldn't forget it. It dug deep into my conscience. When you experience a death as close as your own brother, you can't help but wonder about God. The reality of death is no longer a "maybe someday." All of a sudden it hits you head on, right in the face!
As the school term wore on, I thought about that guy's question more and more honestly. My brother's death had forced me to realistically evaluate my life, and without excuses. I began to see that I was not "cool," not with God anyway. It really hit me one morning about three o'clock, during a party on our dorm floor. I went down to that guy's room again and woke him up. I was pretty incoherent from partying, as well as scared, but I managed to mumble something about wanting to talk about God. I was scared because I finally admitted to myself for the first time where I thought I was going. No one had to tell me. My life spoke loud and clear.
Once inside the room I told him that I wasn't sure where I would go when I died, but that I wanted to be positive. He still wasn't quite awake, but invited me inside to talk. He showed me a verse in the Bible that said that it was possible to know for certain. "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life." He explained to me that none of us could naturally be in Heaven with God because He is perfect. No matter how good we have been, we all fall short of God's standard of perfection. That was no news to me. I knew I wasn't perfect---far from it. The Bible calls this condition Sin, which he explained was a Greek archery term for an arrow that had failed to hit the center of the target. But sin is also a very dangerous and lethal thing. Because of it we can't enjoy a relationship with God. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." If we die in this condition of sin, we are not only separated from Him in this life, but for all eternity. "Your sins have made a separation between you and your God."
"…AND JUSTICE FOR ALL"
Now even though I knew that I wasn't perfect, I had a hard time believing that a loving God would throw me into Hell. One analogy, however, helped me to see that God's character was more than just love. Imagine that I am arrested for drunk driving after losing control of my car and had killed two pedestrians. Later, when my case came up in court, I discovered that the judge was my very own father! Even though my father loves me, as a judge he must punish me to fulfill his duty and obey the law. If he let me off the hook, he would not be just. The families of the people that I had killed would demand justice for my actions. The parallel is clear. Although God loves us, He must punish sin or else He would no longer be righteous. The point is that we are not good enough for a holy God to accept us into Heaven. Our sin cannot be swept under the carpet; it must be dealt with righteously. It was then that I realized that I had a warped concept of God. I had always assumed that when I asked for forgiveness, I got it merely because I asked, but I was never assured of it. How then was I to be forgiven?
God actually became a man, Jesus Christ, in order to satisfy the wrath our sin deserved by dying on the cross. Since God demands a perfect payment for sin, and none of us is perfect, the only one that could pay for our sin was God Himself. "He made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." God's love and justice merged at the cross. But I already believed these things that he was telling me. What was I missing?
If I told you that I put a rattlesnake in your bed, would you sleep there that night? Of course not if you believed me. Real faith, a real saving-eternal faith, involves action. If you really believe something, then you'll act on it. I realized that though I intellectually agreed with these facts, I had never acted on them. It was simply head knowledge. So that night, I admitted to God that I was a sinner and needed His forgiveness. I freely gave God control of my life and made Him my Lord, promising to follow and obey because of what He had done for me. Even though I had chosen to be indifferent with God, my brother's death forced me to answer some tough questions. What made my brother so hopeless was that he had chosen to ignore Christ's payment for his sin. All he had to hope in was in this life and it never satisfied him. Are you satisfied? I'd like to challenge you to consider today whether or not you're positive that you're going to Heaven. If you're not sure, I'd love to talk to you.
Most people have a natural talent.
For me, it's always been writing…and figuring out the storyline in whatever movie I'm watching, which amazes and frustrates my wife Amy.
Amy (an amazing OB nurse) and I have two great kids...Jeremy and Emily...both Michigan State University graduates and Registered Dietitians. Both of them are wonderful kids.
I grew up in Detroit (three out of four sports is pretty good…the Lions have to get it together some day, right?) and graduated from Michigan State University in 1984 with a degree in Telecommunications. After graduating, I worked for Knight Ridder Newspapers near Penn State for four years, became a pastor, spent many years doing campus ministry at Penn State and Michigan State, and then decided I was wired for just one thing…writing.
So in 1998, I resigned my pastorate and started writing my first novel. All that stuff about starving artists is, unfortunately, true. I started doing some freelance writing, but had to put the book on hold and go back to work at a real job. I was still writing, but not full-time. After a stint of moonlighting, I decided to start writing full throttle and here we are in the alley with Shakespeare.
Israel Ministry of Tourism articles (104): http://www.land-of-the-bible.com/experience
GCM Staff Writer/Editor: 13 years (Great Commission Ministries, 10 million dollar international ministry)
- Responsible for all conference, convention, website, and program brochures
- Wrote and edited five quarterly newsletters, fund appeal letters (over 1 million dollars raised), and follow up pieces.
Focus on the Family - Marriage eBook, website content, special projects
Published Articles: Daylights, National Religious Broadcast, Wireless Age
Monthly Newsletter Editor: Dan Bylsma, Ducks player, Penquins and Sabres coach (NHL)
Freelance Writer: Outreach Media Group (print/web)
- 20 sermons for TV and film projects (A.D., God’s Not Dead, The Ultimate Life, Persecuted, A Long Way Off, The Song, America, God the Father, Veil of Tears, Beyond the Mask, Woodlawn, The Christmas Candle)
– Script for online video (12 Keys For Maximizing Online Advertising)
– Friend's Sunday (national church event) sermon
Novel (Author): Xposure
Screenplay (Author): Something Gray
Screenplay (Author): The Flight Brothers
Screenplay (Author): Super Vow
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Freelance Writer/Editor: International Cooperating Ministries (radio/print/web)
– Articles, Bible studies for international radio program (1 billion listeners)
Film reviews: The Song, Wicked Spring
Book Editor: Starman by Gary Coombs
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Two Year Pastor Training Course Editor: Great Commission Association of Churches