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About this series
A Journalist Explores the Credibility and Impact of Christianity
If someone were to ask you: “how do you know Jesus actually lived?” or “can we really trust the Bible?”... what would you say? In this new series, pastor and journalist John Dickerson answers those questions. Using evidence from multiple, reliable sources, and the well-documented impact of Jesus’ followers throughout history, John builds a credible case for the Christian faith. Our hope is that this series will help you confidently say: “Jesus is real, the Bible is true… and I can prove it!”.More from this series
When I was an investigative reporter, one of the first big investigations I had to do was on heroin addiction in Phoenix. And I profiled this young, 19-year-old girl named Mickey, who was down to about 90 pounds. She was so addicted to heroin. It was destroying her body. And as I looked into Mickey's story, one of the unique things about it is that she wasn't born in the slums or in poverty. Her parents were attorneys. She went to Disneyland as a kid. She had the perfect little girl bedroom with stuffed animals all around.
And when we think about this question: What can you do to set the people you love up for a life that they live free from addiction, free, hopefully, from divorce, free from as much pain and suffering as possible. It's important that they have a good education. Yes. Playing youth sports. That can be good. Yes. Mickey did all those things. And at one high school party, when she decided to smoke a little marijuana, it led to her then trying cocaine, and then trying meth, and then trying heroin, and ending up living in a drug house at age 19.
How do you prevent that kind of thing - in a world where there are so many things that our kids are exposed to: division and hatred and so many things that are designed to addict them? How do we set them up for freedom? We can't control their choices, but how can we set them up to make good choices? Well, Jesus speaks about this in John chapter 8. He speaks about freedom. And as we've learned in this series, when Jesus speaks He's not speaking as a guru, or a self-help coach, or even a great, spiritual teacher, He claims to be Almighty God.
And so, in this series, we've documented: Yes, He lived; yes, we know what He said - it's recorded in the gospel accounts; yes, His birthday is the zero of our calendar and He's impacted humanity. He has more followers than anyone else ever in the history of the world. But the real power of Jesus is in His words. And within these claims to be God, we each have to look at these and say, Was this guy actually God on earth, as He claimed or is he some weird lunatic? Because just good people who are helpful, moral examples don't claim that they're God, they don't claim that they're going to return and judge every single person for how they lived their life. But Jesus made these audacious claims.
And it's within that context that Jesus said things like this, in John chapter 8, He said: If you hold to My teaching, then you're really My disciples. So, your salvation begins when you believe that He died on the cross for you, but being a disciple means you're continually reading the teachings of Jesus, and you're continually looking at your life and saying, Am I doing what Jesus said?
Now, none of us do this perfectly, but it's about trajectory. Is there an effort to simply obey the words of Jesus in your life? If so, then He gives this promise. He says: … then you will know the truth - not a truth, not one of many ways, but the truth - God's truth.
And then, this well-known phrase that, even if this is your first time in church, you've heard this phrase before: … and the truth will set you free. The truth setting you free is dependent on the first part: Do you hold to Jesus’ teachings? Are you striving to do what He says in your life? In other words, Jesus just is making this radical claim. He claims to give unrivaled freedom to those who follow His teaching.
In most of the other freedoms in our lives we’re recipients of. We've been born into a country where we have a lot of freedom. Most of us didn't personally achieve that. But the kind of freedom Jesus talks about is freedom from death - that you have eternal life; freedom from sin, from any kind of addiction or habit or pattern that that makes your life smaller; freedom in family systems - when there are things like alcoholism, or abuse, or co-dependence, or insecurity that get passed down from generation to generation. Jesus claims He can break that in your family. He can change that. This is a radical claim.
And in our series, we've been seeing that followers of Jesus in history have been at the leading edge of setting other people free. Those who gave their lives to turn the conscience of countries against slavery, we saw from their writings, they were followers of Jesus. And all that is documented. It's not opinion. But I want to show you today, while we'll look at a little bit of history, I want to show you what this looks like right now, right here. We're a bunch of people who've taken Jesus up on this promise that if we do what He says, He'll set us free and we've found it to be true. Zach and Lindsay are two of those. I want you to go ahead and see their story.
When we first met each other, it was just like a friendship. It was about getting high. It was about having sex. It was about using one another. I had gone through a DCS case. My house caught on fire. I ended up signing over custody to my parents for my two oldest children. And at that point I started using meth.
I went to prison a few times and then every time I got out I would try to be good, do good, but I became homeless after my mom got diagnosed with cancer and she ended up having to leave the house that I was raised in. So, after that, I didn't have nowhere to go. And then I ended up in a homeless shelter. I would keep going out, trying to just say I was going to use one or two, three times, and then eventually it led down to bad roads.
Then we got married, we got married high at the courthouse in our hometown. And my parents encouraged us to go get help at a detox center in our hometown. It didn't help us any at all.
When I picked her up from the rehab, I had heroin on me and basically threw it in her face again. And
We ended up getting out and going to live with the man that we met in the detox center, where he would let us spend his money, drink, and get high there.
But when we got kicked out of that house, you know, we didn't have nowhere to go. So, we went and sat at the Walmart. So, with the heroin and the meth, you know, I finally got to the point to where I realized that it was going to lead me to prison again for the rest of my life or dead. And at the time I wish I was trying to find drugs just to be able to end my life and not wanting to live. And just feel like I just felt like giving up. I tried to get on Facebook and just try to call and tried to reach out to anybody that I could.
We were sitting there on our phone and Zach just looked at me and we didn't know what to do. He was like, “What are we going to do, Lindsay?” Nobody that we were messaging was able to help us. It was like God was letting us know, These aren't the people that I want you to go and get help from.
I sent a message to a guy I know that was in my childhood. And he reached out to me and he said he would come pick us up. And then I mentioned Trinity Life ministries. And he knew about that. So, I went to the Trinity office there and I had a interview with him. And then he asked me when I wanted to enter the program. And I told him that same day.
I actually had to wait a month before I could get through the gate. So, our Christian friends allowed me to live there a month. Also, while I was able to visit with my children. And they were able to come spend the night with me, just all these open doors that God opened for us.
My mentor, Tim Moser was his name. And he was there through everything.
Just knowing that my husband has this really good relationship with a godly man is wonderful. It's great. I support it all the way.
But when Tim was mentoring me he invited me to a service. And so I came to the first service. And then after that, I made that commitment that this was going to be my home church.
I really like this church and I come to love this church, now. I have come to love the fact that my husband stood and stood firm into wanting this to be our home church. And I love it now. I love committing every Sunday coming here because of everything that we've been through. I just felt like I was being led to commit and to make the decision to basically share some PDA [public display of affection] for Jesus. And it was just so great to be able to have this good, good memory of my husband baptizing me because of everything that Jesus has done. And It just really is a home here being a part of this church, all the people that we've met along the way since we decided to start living for Christ. And it's so, it's so amazing.
My life has changed tremendously from being homeless, to being a drug addict, to now being able to be there for my kids and my family, and be a godly man and lead my family and my wife.
I would say that our lives completely took a 180 turn. We're being reconciled with family members. We're able to be examples to others who could be out there right now using, and then seeing our story. And you know, we're doing it all for the glory of God. And the only reason that we're able to keep moving forward is because of Jesus. Our oldest children come visit us every other weekend. We're able to show them what Jesus has done in our lives because our oldest children saw us in our darkness. And now they see us in the light, because of Jesus. He just baptized his son. And now, his son's mother and her husband want to get baptized. And it's great. Like there are so many open doors here and now we're finding just like Tim and Lisa have been able to lead us in different ways to Jesus. Like now we're seeing we're seeing fruit by, by the, some people from our past that are now being led to Jesus because we brought them, we were able to bring them here to connection point.
It's never too late to surrender your life to the Lord.
There is no hopeless cause. It's all a matter of desiring to do good, desiring a better life, and the answer is Jesus.
Give God the glory for that transformation. “Those the Son sets free are free, indeed.”
There were things I saw as a journalist that I thought, People could never get free from that kind of addiction. And now, as a pastor, I see Jesus doing it. I see Him setting people free, not only from addiction, but also from insecurity, from never feeling like they could do enough to be accepted, from never feeling like they're good enough, set free from shame, set free from greed, set free from guilt, set free from brokenness. “Those the Son sets free are free, indeed.”
And you're just sitting in a room full of people who are broken and imperfect, but who have found in Jesus that when we hold to His teaching, not perfectly but consistently, then we come to know the truth and it does set us free. It changes our emotions. It changes what we see, when we look in the mirror. It changes how we treat the people around us. “Those the Son sets free are free, indeed.” I tried to make it through that video without crying, because I know exactly where Zach and Lindsay sit. And I'm sitting there watching them through the video. How are they now? They're here every weekend.
The point of this is Jesus. All we are is a place that connects people to the source of life, to the one who not only creates, but also redeems and restores and recreates. You see, God's truth, obeyed, sets people free.
God's truth is always available to set you free in your life. But whether it will or not depends on will you obey it? And I hope you've heard from me you don't have to obey it perfectly; you just have to obey it willfully, intentionally, with some consistency. We all still stumble and fall down. We're a group of imperfect people, but what we have in common is when we fall down, we've got people around us who pick us up and dust us off and say, keep following Jesus. He's the path to freedom.
Now this is true for individuals. This is true for families. So many families in this church and in Jesus’ movement over the last 2000 years, where, for generations, greed or alcoholism or physical abuse or emotional abuse or some other thing was just passed down from generation to generation. And that pattern could never be broken until there was a generation that believed in Jesus and held to His teaching and then they knew the truth and it set them free.
And what we see when we look back over the last 2000 years is if you get enough people together who were experiencing that, then they start to help other people experience that. And the movement grows and it starts to actually change the society in which they live.
And this might sound like an impossible claim depending on your education background but we looked at primary evidence. What did Harriet Tubman say about Jesus? What did Frederick Douglas say about Jesus? And we found out that the leaders of the movement to end open and legalized slavery, not only here in the U.S., but around the world were dedicated followers of Jesus and were motivated by Jesus’ teachings. That's according to their writings. That's not me putting that in their mouths.
We saw the same with the top 10 hospitals. We saw that the Mayo Clinic, John's Hopkins, Massachusetts General, those three of the top five are symbolic of the top 200, which have
spread healthcare around the world. And that each of them had followers of Jesus at their founding, that they were started to care for the poor. And to obey Jesus’ words where He says, “Whatever you do for the least of these you've done unto Me.” And again, all of that was documented.
Now, very briefly. I want to give you a thesis, and the thesis is this that we live at a time where, yes, society's imperfect, but we've inherited some fruits of freedom, prosperity, even longevity of our life-span that are unusual in history. So, the average lifespan in human history has been 45 years. Now, in the U.S. it's about 80 years. That's changed in the last 200 years because of specific advances in healthcare. Where did those come from?
Most people throughout history either were slaves, or they lived in a society that had slaves. In the last 200 years that has changed. Who were the people who changed that? Where were they educated? How did they do it? These are all fruits that we inherit. Even what we assume are our property rights and our human rights and that we can go to a court and hopefully have at least an effort at a just and fair trial, that’s unique in history. Where did all of this come from?
And if you think of these as fruit on a tree, the reality is that there were seeds that were planted. And we can trace these through history.
We looked at the Reverend Samuel Wright, an African American gentleman who was born into freedom because of the Quaker Christians, long before the civil war. And he gave his life to help end slavery. It was very rare that he knew how to read and write as an African American before the civil war. Why did he know how to read and write? Well, it was because of the Quaker Christians.
It was them and the Puritan, Christians who pretty much instituted what we now call public education - that every boy and girl gets taught how to read. Now, over the generations that's been handed on and it's obviously not overtly Christian anymore, but that's where it started. And if you were to look at each of these advances, one of the things they all have in common is the university, as we know it today. And could you imagine if there were no universities today? One, how terrible would it be to not be able to watch college football?
So, thank you Christians for founding the university system so we can watch our favorite team get pounded or win. But it’s so much more than that. Just imagine if right now there were no universities in the United States, the roads that you drove on today to get here, wouldn't be like that because there wouldn't be engineers trained to grade and design the road like that. The vehicle you have wouldn't exist. The electricity you had that you can turn on the lights, it wouldn't be there. Without the university, you removed that one thing from the last 1000 years and we're back in the dark ages. So, where did the university system come from?