Standing for Your Faith
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Standing for Your Faith

2 Timothy 1:3–8  (ID: 2863)

In this candid and personal testimony, Alistair Begg recounts his experience of coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Reflecting upon his youth, he encourages young people to choose relationships carefully, recognizing that friendships compel us to be good or bad but are seldom neutral. In pivotal moments when peers compel us to act, it is essential to stand firm upon our knowledge that Christ died for our sins and not waiver from our faith.

Series Containing This Sermon

Lessons for Life, Volume 1

Biblical Wisdom for Young Adults Selected Scriptures Series ID: 26701

Sermon Transcript: Print

Second Timothy chapter 1. Second Timothy 1:3. Paul says, “I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. [I’ve] been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

“So do not be ashamed to testify.”

The hymn writer says,

I know not how the Spirit moves,
[Convicting] men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
[And] creating faith in him.[1]
As we look back through the corridors of time and the influences upon our lives, we ponder how it was that God would lay his hand upon our lives and choose to save us.

The further we go in the Christian life, the greater our vantage point for looking back. And as we look back down through the corridors of time and the influences that have been brought to bear upon our lives, we’re caused to ponder more and more just how it was that God would lay his hand upon our lives and choose to save us.

Brought Up in a Christian Home

When I was about sixteen, I remember giving my testimony in a coffee bar in Yorkshire, and I said on this occasion, “I was brought up in a Christian home. I don’t know whether that is an advantage or a disadvantage.” And an older gentlemen took me behind the stage afterwards and metaphorically beat me around the side of the head and said, “If you are so stupid that you don’t realize tonight what an advantage it is to have been brought up in a Christian home, then maybe one day, when you’re a bit more mature, you will come to understand what an immense privilege it is.”

So, some twenty-three years after that, I guess I’ve wisened up a little bit, and I do recognize that it is an immense privilege to be brought up in a Christian home. And the reason I read from 2 Timothy is because Timothy’s experience is largely my own: that I had a godly grandmother, born in the highlands of Scotland a way up, just about before you fall off the top, in a little tiny village that no longer exists anymore, a hamlet that is literally history. And I don’t know how she came to faith in Christ, but I do know that she prayed for me before I was born and after I was born, that God gave me into the arms of a mother who had professed faith in Jesus Christ, and along with my dad, they sought to nurture me in the things of Christ.

I don’t know literally when it was, what day it was, but I do recall it was a Sunday afternoon that I came home from Sunday school. It had been for me, obviously, a different kind of Sunday school. The average Sunday school for me was, you know, try and annoy everybody in sight; if you can knock somebody off their chair, that’s a coup d’état, that’s a good Sunday; and if you can knock the teacher off their line of reason, then that’s just terrific.

But this Sunday had obviously been different, because I went home, and I remember after lunch I asked my dad, “How old do you have to be to become a Christian?” And my dad, with a measure of wisdom, went on to explain that the significance did not lie in how old you were, but it lay in understanding a number of things and sensing a need within our lives. And he very simply followed up what must have been done by the Sunday school teacher that morning and shared with me the fact of our sin. I’d certainly lost my temper enough by that early age. I think I’d probably used a few bad words—enough to know that they came out of me. I don’t know where they came from, but they were in there. I knew enough to realize that all was not well with me. I was completely overwhelmed by the thought that Jesus Christ would die on a cross in order to pay the penalty for the fact that I was wretched. And it seemed to me an amazing thing that he offered salvation not as something to be earned but as a gift—if only, in childlike trust, I would repent of my sin and confess, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior.” And so, I remember kneeling down with my dad on a Sunday afternoon on a chair in our family room, there in our house in Glasgow, and I asked him to forgive my sin, to come and live in my life and make me the kind of boy he wanted me to be. That was the prayer.

A lot of time has elapsed since then, and I found myself going into the experience of preadolescence, facing the challenge of a buoyancy that was generated by the faith of my family, and wondering whether my faith, left to itself, was really that buoyant at all. And I used to wear a kilt on a Sunday. I never wore long trousers until I was twelve years old. My mother wouldn’t allow me to wear long pants; she didn’t want me to grow up too quickly—which seemed remarkable, especially when it was snowing and I was going sledding, and when all other normal children would go wearing jeans, I would go wearing shorts. And the snow would go right up the inside of my shorts, and I have vivid recollections—I don’t want you to get too many mental pictures—but I’ve got vivid recollections of my mother rubbing glycerine on the inside of my thighs and me telling her, “You know, you don’t have to go through this. It’s a very simple solution: you just have to buy me a pair of jeans.” There was something about those jeans; it had to do with Teddy Boys or Elvis Presley. It had to do with something, but I couldn’t have jeans.

“A Crossroads in My Life”

And so, there I was, going to church on Sundays, and then during the week I would get in with my friends, conscious of the downward drag of my friends, as I began to play soccer for the school—which is really football. I resent the fact that I have to call it soccer. That is an accommodation to you, since I am your guest, but the game is actually “football” in three-quarters of the world. And with typical American determination, you have forced three-quarters of the world to change the name given to that game. And because you are such geniuses at marketing, you’ve done it successfully. But we’ll leave that aside. I mean, how can you call the game “football” when one guys comes on and kicks it once every two and a half hours, you know, and you spend all the time falling all over the ground with it? At least football is played with your feet! But anyway, I don’t mean to start a racial tension in the place. And besides, you should be generous towards me because I am an ethnic minority, so… You understand that.

So, by the time I was involved playing with my friends at soccer, we had a routine where we would play the game in the morning, and then we would take public transportation home. We had a number of boys in the team who were adept shoplifters. Now, these guys weren’t just good; they were fantastic. A couple of them have spent a significant amount of time in jail, subsequently—so they were good at doing it; they weren’t that good at not getting caught. But it was fairly routine to get off the bus a couple of times on the journey, although we didn’t need to get off the bus, and we would get off the bus and go in shops. There would be twelve or thirteen of us, and we would crowd into the shop, and the two or three experts would raid the shop for everything they could possibly steal. And then we would get back on the bus, and we would divvy out the plunder on the second deck of the bus.

Of course, I was a Christian; I knew that was wrong, and I didn’t steal any of the stuff; I just went in and stood there. And I thought that that was okay, because standing wasn’t an accomplice to the crime—when, in actuality, standing was an accomplice to the crime, and I was very much involved in it. And I wrestled with that whole notion of trying to stand up for your faith, trying to live for Jesus Christ. You’re thirteen, now you’re fourteen, now you’ve turned fifteen. Your friends think you’re a total idiot, that you go to the Scripture Union group or Campus Life and the thing, and they wonder why you have such a hard time singing their songs and laughing at their jokes. And you remember that kind of tension.

So my father decided—he didn’t decide, actually; he was told he was moving to England, which is a dreadful thing to happen to a Scottish boy. And we moved to England, and I remember when I was fifteen years old, in my bedroom at night, saying, “Well, this is great, you know, because when I move to England, I’ll be able to clean this whole operation up. Because no one’ll know me in England; I get a fresh start, and I’ll just go clean and it’ll be great. I’ll nail my colors to the mast for Jesus Christ.”

When there’s a problem around, it’s always ‘him’ or ‘her’ or ‘it’ or ‘that.’ None of us like to look into the mirror of the Word and find that it confronts us.

The funny thing happened was that when I got to England, I got to England. And I realized that the problem did not lie in my circumstances, but it lay in me. Most of us are very unprepared to admit that. When there’s a problem around, it’s always “him” or “her” or “it” or “that.” And none of us like to look into the mirror of the Word and find that it confronts us. And it says in James, “Is it right that out of the same spring could come salt water and fresh water? Is it right that out of the same mouth could come songs of praise and curses?”[2] And of course, the answer is, “No, it’s not right at all.”

And Billy Graham came to Britain around that time, as he’s done on a number of occasions. And at the youth group in the Baptist church to which we’d begun to go, now in Yorkshire, England, our youth leaders encouraged us to invite our friends to come along to the Billy Graham relay crusade. It was taking place in the Earl’s Court in London and it was being relayed by closed-circuit television to various points throughout the British Isles. And so we went on this particular night—myself taking friends from school, as I’d been told to do. And we all crowded onto the coach and went the eighteen or twenty miles into Leeds.

And I was there, hoping that my friends would come to know Jesus Christ. And Billy Graham that night spoke, as it turned out, to people who professed faith in Jesus Christ. It was very vivid to me. He used the illustration of a radio. He said, “Many of you, your Christian lives are a bit like a radio, insofar as you have tuned in to Jesus Christ.” You gotta remember, it was the ’60s now, you know: tune in, turn on, drop out. And Billy Graham was using the lingo of the day, and he said, “Many of you have tuned in to Jesus Christ, but you are so easily knocked off the station, and your volume control is way down low.” And he said, “I want to give a challenge tonight to people who are just like that, to be done with any kind of monkey business in their Christian life—to be done, once and for all, with any kind of double standards, to nail their colors to the mast for Christ, and to stand up here, saying that in standing they do so.”

And it was almost like he preached the message just for me. It was something that I needed. It was a crossroads in my life. And so, at the age of fifteen, I stood up. And I can remember going to the counselor afterwards, and the counselor was trying to lead me to faith in Jesus Christ, and I told him, “No, I know Jesus Christ.” And so he called for the supervisor. And the supervisor, he tried to get me sorted out as well, and he couldn’t sort me out either, and eventually I just took all his literature, and I thanked him very much for caring about me, and I went home.

And fortunately, again, I had a father who could sort me out, and before that day ended, I told him what I’d done. I told him with tears; I told him that I hadn’t lived out things the way that I should have done. And I remember, again, you know, his gracious response as he said, “Well,” he said, “now you are young man; then you were a young boy. And as a young man, you need to authenticate and live out your profession of faith as a young boy.” And so I went on from there.

Sue, the Girl from America

I met Americans when I was about sixteen. And it was Americans who taught me how to share my faith. No one had ever told me how to just share my faith in Christ with someone. And I went to a holiday in Switzerland with a friend, and we met a bunch of young people there. And we came back for a reunion down in the London area, and at that reunion, I was invited to the home of an American family. There had been two American girls on the holiday. One was called Christine Jones, and the other one was called “Kimberly Ann France.” I say it like that because that’s how she said it, and I’ve never forgotten. In fact, I want to say it again, ’cause I like saying it so much; her name was “Kimberly Ann France.” (And I mentioned this girl a couple of years ago. I just met a girl here tonight that I’d met at the Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference up in Muskegon. And I did just this very thing a couple of summers ago, and I mimicked “Kimberly Ann France,” and it turned out a lady came up to me afterwards and said, “I didn’t know that you knew my niece.” And so I have to be really careful, and if you know Kimberly, tell her I think she speaks really great.)

Anyway, we got invited to this American family’s home. (You can leave at any point. I mean, about fifty of you did this morning when I was preaching, so don’t feel bad about leaving when I’m talking, you know. That’s fine. Especially the Awana group there in the back. Last in, first out; you know, I’ve been there. It’s all right.)

The American family took us to lunch—myself and a couple of buddies—and it was the first time anybody put roast beef and JELL-O on the one plate: an amazing experience for me! I mean, it was as phenomenal as the launching of the first space shuttle, in my mind, at that point. I mean, because JELL-O is jelly, actually, in three-quarters of the world. And because you just can’t get with it, you had to change it to JELL-O; and jelly is actually dessert in three-quarters of the world, but of course, you know, you made it in the main course. So, they dumped all the JELL-O on there, and there was JELL-O and this and the whole thing, and it was…

And there were four daughters in the home, and one of them was called Susan, the sister of Christine, whom I already told you had the surname Jones. And she was really nice. And she was also really young. I was now the ripe old age of sixteen. And I looked across the table at this girl, and without a shadow of a doubt, this girl had the most beautiful eyes of any girl that I had ever met to that point in my life. And I was completely mesmerized by her. And I was dropping peas all over the tablecloth; the JELL-O was sliding everywhere. I didn’t know whether to eat it with a fork or to eat it with a spoon or whatever it was. Oh, by the way, she was thirteen and a half! My son is thirteen last week, right? You gotta put this in some kind of context. I’ll tell you more about that if we have time.

But we left the home and we went to church, and we left again and went home, three hundred miles away to Yorkshire. We went to Carnaby Street, which some of you will have read about in history books, and from Carnaby Street we sent to this home a postcard saying, “Thanks for having us to lunch,” with a bunch of the names scribbled, such as sixteen-year-old boys would do, with drawings and just garbage ad nauseam written all over it, and sent it off.

Well, surprise, surprise, this girl Susan sent me a letter back. I went to find it the other day, because it was twenty-three years since I’d met her. I remember the Sunday in October; I can’t forget it. And she wrote me a letter back, and I don’t remember the spelling, I don’t remember anything, except this was really terrific! So then I wrote her a letter back, and there’s a ton of life goes by now, but I’ll just tell you that we then wrote letters for the next seven years, and four of those years, we wrote across the Atlantic Ocean to each other. And her father was determined, just like I’m gonna be determined, that no jerks are going to come and steal his daughters, you see, of which he had four.

And I mean, I already have contingency plans drawn up for my two girls. We don’t have a long driveway to our house, but it’s long enough. And I’m getting one of those boxes where you wait for the school bus, and I’m getting an Uzi in there, two German shepherds, the whole thing. And don’t even get an idea about phoning up, okay? Thank you. All right. Just stay away.

I sent the message out; I told the people in my church, “My son,” I said, “cannot date until he’s thirty years old.” He got a birthday card from a couple in the church saying, “Your father is outrageous. Thirty is far too young!” But anyway… Incidentally, I mentioned down in Bolivia last week—I was speaking to a group of young people, and I said, “I have a wife; she has blonde hair and blue eyes. And I have a son who wants to marry a girl who has dark hair and dark eyes,” and a girl came up to me afterwards and said, “Here, I’m your girl,” you know? So, it’s craziness. But anyway, you gotta be careful what you say.

But anyway, what happened was, her father took her back to America. And I was really ticked off about that, because that’s a long way to go. I mean, three hundred miles is one thing, but three and a half thousand miles is another thing altogether.

Oh! Something very interesting—at least to me—is that my friend Richard (remember Richard, we went to Switzerland?), well, he was semipassionately in love with Christine, the sister—the older sister. So there was a kind of simultaneous correspondence going on, and consequently, when they split for America, both of us were in the doldrums. Richard did squat about it. Okay? He never wrote another letter. You know, he said, “Hey, that’s it, man, history, goodbye.” I said, “No, Richard, that’s a poor way to go, man.” I said, “Fight for it.” I said, “You’ve gotta fight!” He said, “But you don’t have a chance.” He said, “They’ll get back over there with American guys,” he said. “You’ve seen these American guys; they’re all muscles, and they all look like marines and everything.” He said, “Look at the state of us!” he said. “You and I should just forget it.”

There was a great deal of truth in that, but I don’t know whether it’s tenacity or stupidity, but I decided, there’s no way in the world that Chrysler Corporation, whom I held responsible for this disaster, was going to shut down my relationship with this girl! And so I went to America, 1972—I mean, I should say I came to America, ’cause this is America, isn’t it?—and I came to America, ’72. I went to Dallas, to Explo ’72 with Campus Crusade for Christ. It was unbelievable. I mean, just every living thing got witnessed to in Dallas that week. In fact, I remember flying to Los Angeles out of Dallas airport, and there’s a huge big soldier—I haven’t been back to Dallas—but there’s big soldier on a plinth in the middle of the airport somewhere, and he’s standing up, and he has a gun, and he has his hand like this. And as I was going to the gate to fly to Los Angeles, in between his thumb and his first finger there was a “Four Spiritual Laws” sticking right of the thing. So it was kinda like, you know, “We’ll witness to anything—inanimate objects as well.”

But anyway, we hadn’t seen each other for a year, and I inveigled a situation whereby her father and mother would go to Explo ’72. I suggested it would be a great thing for them to go to, especially if they brought Susan. So I met her in the Adolphus Hotel, and “my heart stood still, da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron.”[3] You’re not supposed to know these songs here at Cedarville. How can you laugh at that stuff? Now, it was totally amazing. I can tell you more about it afterwards. But I had a devil of a summer to fight off the American marines. And the memorable occasion—and I’ll just recount this and finish—but we went out, her family… Oh, incidentally, my hair was really long. If you’ve seen the Sweet Baby James album, where he has a blue denim shirt—James Taylor—and his hair is hanging right down here, you got the picture. Okay? So I come to America. I remember, I spoke in a Baptist church in Bloomfield Hills in Michigan. And I sat down in the seat, and as I was walking back to the seat, the youth pastor, who was Canadian—it’s not his fault, but he was Canadian—and he stood up and he said, “There you are, folks; even someone who looks like that can be a Christian!” It’s real nice, you know, real sensitive stuff. Anyway, that’s let bygones be bygones.

And we went up to the dunes in Michigan. They don’t let you do this to the dunes anymore, because the dunes are going somewhere. For the life of me, I can’t figure where they’re going, but you can’t do this. But we were riding dirt bikes. Actually, I should say, they were riding dirt bikes. I never saw a dirt bike in my life till that day. But you think I’m gonna admit that, when all those American guys are riding dirt bikes, and then there’s me? So we got all these girls and all these guys, and dirt bikes—and me. All the guys, again on the dirt bikes … doing this all through the sand, and all the girls are jumping on the back and going. Till everyone turns around, looks at me, and said, “D’you want a dirt bike?” I said, “Sure, I want a dirt bike, yeah!” I’m not gonna let him know. Said, “I got a dirt bike, now I got a girl.” Susan was gracious enough to get on the back. I let all the guys go in front of me, get around the bend, then I started. …

It was totally, horribly embarrassing—unbelievably embarrassing. I won’t go into all the details. Suffice it to say that I also was suffering from a dreadful bout of hay fever. The hay fever was such that it made my nose bleed instantaneously, whether I knew it or not. The humidity was dreadful, the mosquitoes were horrendous, the experience was bizarre, my hair was everyplace, and I kept fallin’ off in the sand.

And so, what I didn’t realize—that when I fell off in the sand, the blood was congealing on my face and making patterns, like Metallica or AC/DC or something like that. So my hair’s hanging down. So everyone was back round the circuit, and I had the ignominious fate to end up completing the circuit with Susan Jones driving the bike and me sitting on the back. What I didn’t realize was that in the year that I’d had been away, she had received two tickets for riding dirt bikes around Bloomfield Hills on the tarmac roads, and that she could actually do wheelies and everything on this bike, and she was so embarrassed that she had this Scottish jerk, with his hair and the blood and everything else. And some nights, when she tucks my children into bed, I think about that story and say, “This is unbelievable!” And I thank God that, in relationships, a number of things are involved, but one is his grace, and the other is a lot of hard work on our part. ’Cause otherwise she would be married to one of you big, muscular-looking marines, and I’d be really ticked, I can tell you!

Relationships are seldom neutral; they either help you to be good or they help you to be bad. Relationships with the opposite sex will devastate you, or they’ll make you.

So let me say, in that, that there are few things in life that are capable of as much pain or as much joy as good relationships or fouled-up relationships. Relationships are seldom neutral; they either help you to be good or they help you to be bad. Relationships with the opposite sex will devastate you, or they’ll make you. Relationships with the opposite sex are bad when they become your major preoccupation, when they separate you from Jesus Christ, when they become the total fixation of your mind, when the attraction is purely physical. And you folks are right at the crossroads of many of those things.

And now, as a dad, looking at my children, I suddenly realize why her father was so protective of her all these years ago. But I do still get a kick out of it when he comes over to my house, and it’s kinda like, “Aha, I got you!” you know.

And that’s a little bit about how I came to Christ and how I met my wife. I mention her because she is just the mainstay of my life, beyond Christ. I couldn’t do these things, I couldn’t travel, I couldn’t be involved in the different things, were it not for her unquestioning support of me, and if she were here tonight, then I could illustrate that—although she’d be embarrassed to listen to all this trash, and she’d be going, “Why don’t you just shut up?” So. Hearing her speak, as it were, from Cleveland, I’ll just shut up.

And I’ve left all of five minutes for all these questions, which I’m just anticipating there aren’t any. So. ’Cause we gotta go for pizza. But does anyone want to ask a question? Let me rephrase that: Is there anyone who wants to ask a question who’s brave enough to ask a question? You will? Okay!

Called to America

[Audience member: What caused you to leave the UK and come to the States?]

What caused me to leave the United Kingdom and come here? The invitation of this church in Cleveland. I was going along pretty nicely when a man arrived at the door of our house on a Sunday morning. I had already gone to church early. My wife had her hair in Carmen heated rollers, I believe. She was pregnant with our second child, and she had on her robe, and the doorbell rang. So she probably thought, “Oh, great!” and then went down the stairs, but because she’s the pastor’s wife, said, “Oh, hello!”—I beg your pardon—and the guy launches into this diatribe that he comes from Cleveland, and he’s the chairman of the search committee of a church, and he came from the airport and he has a taxi, and he’s going to keep the taxi all through church, and then he’ll go back to the airport. And Sue had lived long enough in Scotland to realize that’s a really dumb idea, so she sent the taxi away and said that she would make sure that someone in the church took this man back; he came completely unannounced.

And I should tell you that before the services at church, I always go and hide in the toilet. That’s kind of privileged information, although I can’t see that it would ever make the headlines in Christianity Today, you know: “Alistair Begg Goes in Toilet before He Preaches.” But the reason I go there is to get out of the way of everybody, because people just talk to you about stupid stuff. You know, even your elders and your deacons; you know, you got ten minutes to go before you’re supposed to pour out your heart in worship and praise: “Hey, did you see that game yesterday?” You know, and so I can’t be bothered with that nonsense. So I was hiding in the bathroom. And I was hiding in the bathroom and reading my notes, and this comes: [knocking sound.] Well, no one invades your privacy there! I mean, at least that’s one place you can go with no one knocking the door.

So I thought—like my wife thought, you know, with the Carmen heated rollers—I thought, “Oh, terrific!” and then because I’m the pastor, I said, “Yes?” and then… not as high-pitched as that, but similar. And my wife says, “Hey Ali,” she says, “get out of there!” you know. So, husbands being subjected to your wives, I immediately came right out the door! And we’re standing in a corner, and she said, “You’re not gonna believe this, but there’s a guy in your study, he came from America, he’s got a garbled story about Cleveland, it’s all about a church.” She said, “I don’t know what in the world you’re gonna do with him, but he’s in there.”

We’re now about five minutes before the service starts. I walk in, and sure enough, the guy was, “Hello, good morning, I’m from Cleveland, Ohio. … We have forty-two home Bible study groups, we have a growing church, we have a beautiful building, we have this and this and this and this. And I would just want to know if you are interested in the will of God.”

I said, “Yeah, and the will of God for me is that I do the morning service, which starts in four minutes, buddy.” I didn’t say “buddy” because I didn’t know that word yet, ’cause I hadn’t lived in America. But I said “sir” or something. You know, like, “sir.” ’Cause I was ticked! I mean, if he had said, “And by the way, are you interested in a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica?” nothing would have fazed me—or “Are you interested in a vacuum cleaner while I’m here?” you know? I said, “This is the ultimate American crassness! Five minutes before the service, he’s trying to hire you out of your church!”

Literally, I didn’t know where Cleveland was. I hadn’t a clue. We have a Cleveland in Britain; you copied it from us. We have a Cleveland which is in the northeast, and funnily enough, it’s in the northeast here. But anyway, he went home. Bam. Gone. History?

Five weeks later, I get a letter. Says, “Oh, what a service that was! Boy, did I like your service! Do I like you, do I like your Scottish accent, do I like everything!” and everything. “And boy, are we in deep trouble. And we can’t find a pastor. And you know, we’ve scraped right through the bottom of the barrel. We’re three barrels down, and so now we’ve gone overseas,” you know. “And will you come to America for the weekend?”

So now I said, “This is cool, man. Go to America for the weekend!” You gotta understand that when we went more than fifty miles, we took sandwiches, sleeping bags, and everything else, so the idea of going to America for the weekend was so crazy, I said, “Hey, yeah, I’ll go to America for the weekend! If they’re dumb enough to pay for me to fly to America for a weekend, I’ll go preach there. After all, I go preach in Birmingham; I go on the train.” I said, “I’ll go on the plane, go to Cleveland, see what’s it like.” So that’s what happened. And I came here. That was a major mistake.

And subsequent to that, they asked if I would come and be their pastor, and I said no. And about fourteen months went by, and they called up again and said, Would I be their pastor? And it was kind of like, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.”[4] And a lot of things. I mean, I’ve made light of it, but there’s a lot of remarkable stuff that was wrapped up in it.

People used to ask me, “Do you think you’ll go and live in America?” because I had an American wife. But Sue had lived in Britain. She’d gone to an English girl’s school from the age of twelve. She had gone home when she was seventeen. She’d married me when she was only twenty, and we had lived in Britain, and all our children had been born in Britain. And she had moved around so much with Chrysler Corporation—I think she was in six different high schools—with the moves of her father, that this, for the first time in our life, this represented stability to her. And she’d made friends that were beginning to form roots. So there was no, there was no hankering after coming to America. And I used to say to people, “Well, I think there’s a 50 percent chance that we could end in America, because 50 percent of us is American.”

Many of my friends had left Scotland and come to Canada or America. A number of them had grown horribly homesick and come back again. And I had kind of the best of both worlds: I could come to America to visit, and yet I was very contented in Scotland. But God just kind of closed down things for me, and I came here. And the only thing that brought me here was that deep sense, and the only thing that, frankly, has kept me these last eight years plus in Cleveland is the sense of the call of God. And interestingly enough, the same process, I discovered, takes place all the time. I get phone calls from people from the sun states, saying, “What’re you doing in Cleveland? Wouldn’t you like to come somewhere where it’s sunny?” I say, “I… yeah, but since when was that a New Testament question?”

So. Hey, it’s over, right? It’s seven thirty. We have to stop. So, hey, thanks a lot. See you in the morning.

Oh, we should pray? Yes. Yep!

Jesus said that “men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”[5] He told the parable of the persistent widow.[6]

Father, I pray that in these ramblings there may be something of yourself, at least for somebody here tonight—maybe someone who’s sitting on the fence in their Christian life. I’m just reminded of that little poem, Lord:

One ship goes East,
One ship goes West,
By the self-same winds that blow
It’s the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That determine which way they go.[7]

I pray there may be some here tonight who reset their sails in the voyage of life—perhaps some, in wrestling with relationships and with uncertainty, with lack of clarity, perhaps even allowing impurity to creep into what’s taking place—that, Lord, you will grant to them grace to do what is right.

And Father, we thank you for the way you’ve led us. Not all of us have had the privilege of Christian upbringings, and some of us are in agony, literally, for our mums and dads who do not know you. And so we pray for each one’s family tonight, where they are and who they are.

And I pray for these students, Lord, that you will, by your grace, maximize their potential; you’ll make them good students, whether they go into the realm of education or medicine or engineering—that whatever they do, they may do it “as [un]to the Lord, and not unto men,”[8] and that you will make them as lights in a dark place, until the day that the dayspring rises in our hearts and Christ returns.[9] For we ask these things, with the forgiveness of our sin, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Daniel Webster Whittle, “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace” (1883).

[2] James 3:10–11 (paraphrased).

[3] Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector, “Da Doo Ron Ron” (1963).

[4] Jonah 3:1 (NIV 1984).

[5] Luke 18:1 (KJV).

[6] See Luke 18:1–8.

[7] Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “The Winds of Fate,” in World Voices (New York: Hearst’s International Library Company, 1916), 51. Paraphrased.

[8] Colossians 3:23 (KJV).

[9] 2 Peter 1:19 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.