Addressing the Damage of the Past
About the Guest
All of us have a past, but some family histories are more difficult to remember than others. Josh McDowell is redeeming his past by turning it into a motion picture that will inspire and encourage those who see it. McDowell talks with Dennis Rainey about the making of the film, “Undaunted,” a movie about his life.
Josh McDowell is redeeming his past by turning it into “Undaunted,” a motion picture about his life.
Addressing the Damage of the Past
Bob: Josh McDowell did not grow up in a healthy, happy family; but he says, “Today, the need for churches to be filled with healthy, happy families is a critical need.”
Josh: Every church needs a pastor who has a loving, close, intimate relationship with his wife and spends time with his children to give hope to those single moms out there—single dads—to give hope to kids, like me—kids that are coming from broken homes—that happy, joyful marriage is possible through Christ, regardless of what your past is. I’ll stand, nose to nose, with anyone on that!
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 10th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today why Josh McDowell believes so passionately in the power of family. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, there is a verse in Scripture when the Apostle Paul is talking about his life before he was converted. He talks about how faithful he tried to be as a Jew—and how he was blameless, and a zealot for the Law—but how he was also involved in persecuting Christians—how he was an enemy of God. He comes to a point where he says, “Forgetting what lies behind, I press on.”
I think a lot of people read that verse; and they go: “I would like to forget what lies behind in my life because I’ve got some stuff that lies behind that is still holding me captive; but I don’t know how to forget it. I don’t know what that verse means. I don’t know how to do that.” I wonder if we can get some help with that today.
Dennis: All of us have a past. We tend to look at each other and take a snapshot of who we are today, and we don’t realize that everybody is walking around with the knowledge of all their errors, all their shortcomings, maybe things that were done to them—evil things.
We have a guest with us on FamilyLife Today, Josh McDowell, who has been sharing a good bit of his story with our listeners. Josh—welcome back.
Josh: Oh, it’s good to be back with you guys.
Dennis: Josh is a compadre—a fellow warrior—on Cru® staff. He’s been on staff now more than 50 years.
Josh: Fifty-one years.
Dennis: Josh has been married to Dottie for 42 years. They have four children and ten grandchildren. He, of course, has had a ministry to college students and to folks in multiple countries, around the world.
Bob: You’ve been sharing with us, this week, about your childhood and some of the horrific stuff that happened to you in your childhood. In fact, you tell a lot of this in the book you’ve written called Undaunted, which is not just a book. It was made into a motion picture; right?
Josh: Yes, it was made into a movie by one of the top directors in the world.
Bob: That had to be, at some level, amazing but also painful for you to be a part of this process.
Josh: I was only on the set—which was shot way up in Northern Michigan because they have some of the finest studios in the world there—and I was only there three days. The movie took a year to film and everything, but I wasn’t—I didn’t need to be there. But in those three days, it was probably the hardest three days of my Christian life because I relived so much.
The director did such a phenomenal job. I mean, he caught it. The technique he used was, to me, incredible and so accurate. I mean, he investigated everything. Everybody that is alive—that knew me, as a child—he interviewed, talked to: “Is this right? Did this…” “Well, how did this happen?” When I first saw the film, I had to stop it at least five times because all of a sudden, I visually saw where a lot of my hurts came from. I remember—kept feeling sorry for the little boy I was watching—
Josh: —and then, it just hit me: “Well, that was me.” But you have to understand, I don’t really, Bob, regret my past. God has used it in my life for the good!
Dennis: How would you encourage a parent or a group of people in a church to treat a movie like this—because this is destroying a lot of lives, but we don’t know what to do with—and I don’t mean out-of-place graphic nature of the film because there is nothing graphic about it; but you know what’s taking place.
Bob: There are a lot of themes in here that a lot of parents would go, “I don’t want my kids to see this.”
Josh: Yes. But I’ll tell you this—when I get up to speak—and Steve Arterburn taught me this. He was little low on the statistics, I think. Steve said, “Josh, when you ever get up to speak to any evangelical, born-again, Christian church group young people, you’ve got to have, in your mind, that 1 out of 3—a third of them—have been sexually abused or extremely sexually harassed.”
The way to use this film—first of all, for an individual—every family, if they have children six, seven, eight, nine years old up, to 30 years old ought to watch it, as a family. Say, “That young?” Yes, because there are several things it will do within the family, if the parents are wise. One, if your child in anyway has ever been approached by a family member or someone else, it will come out. That’s healthy! Secondly, this film will help you to take these themes and interact with your child about them to build in safety factors—everything—for your daughter, for your son. At six, seven, eight years old, it’s so important!
Dennis: You believe that a good preparation for facing these issues is better than playing defense.
Josh: Oh, absolutely! You’ve got—in today’s culture—with the internet, everything else—you’ve got to take the offensive! This film, what it does—to me, it’s so well-done, so professionally-done by this director, that your kids will watch it. It will open up doors of conversation—
Josh: —in several areas: in violence, in alcohol, and in abuse—sex abuse and all. Maybe your children have never been sexually abused, but many of their friends have been. What this film does—it helps believers to help their friends and all who have been abused. I say to the average Christian—I say to you two guys, here—each one of you know at least 20 people that have been sexually abused. You say, “No.” Yes! You just don’t know it!
Josh: At least 20! Every single person in the United States knows at least 20 people who have been sexually abused. What this film does is—when you do find out, it helps you to give them hope. For someone that watches this film—and boy, this has been the feedback—from who have been abused—one of the first comments is: “It’s one of the first times in my life I’ve had hope. When I saw what God did in your life, I don’t have to be a victim.”
Bob: Here’s where I think you can help us because a lot of people will come to faith—and they think that’s just going to fix everything—and at some level, coming to faith is the beginning part of that journey to get some of the past issues fixed. But it has been a journey for you; hasn’t it?
Josh: Oh, yes. I don’t think God ever intended, in the majority of these situations, for it to be a 24-hour fix.
Josh: It’s a process. For me, it’s been a lifetime process, and I’m glad it was. I truly believe, Bob, every day I become a better person. I think I’ve become a better follower of Jesus, a better husband, a better father, a better friend, and a better friend of those who have been abused and affected by alcohol. I have grown more through this experience. I don’t know how I could have grown through anything else.
But here’s the key—when I went to meet with Steve Arterburn of the New Life Treatment Centers, I shared with him some of the things that I had done. There were several things that he said, “Josh, I cannot believe what you did in your life that most people don’t even do with counseling.” I said, “What do you mean?” And he’d listened to me for three hours. He said, “One, you never looked at yourself as a victim.” I’m not. I am not a victim. I never did: “This will not define my life,” and it hasn’t.
He said: “Josh, do you realize how healthy that is?—because you didn’t go into self-pity and everything. Second, you never looked at yourself as damaged goods.” See, most people who are sexually abused—they are raped, whatever—they look at themselves as damaged goods. They become very sexually promiscuous or repeat the behavior that they received from somebody else. I never looked at myself as damaged goods, and I didn’t realize how healthy of an attitude that is—especially, when I came to know Jesus.
Now, here’s a phrase—oh, I get excited about this one! This phrase has liberated me more than anything I’ve ever thought of in my entire life. It’s after I came to know Jesus and I saw how He gave me the ability to forgive. I learned this phrase, Bob: “There’s nothing too great in my life for God’s power to deal with—nothing—and there’s nothing too small or insignificant, meaningless, for God’s love to be concerned about.” That freed me up to trust Him with areas of my life that’d be very easy to say, “Well, God doesn’t love me. He doesn’t care about that.” He cares about everything in my life.
The other is I realized I could not go it alone. I needed help. And Steve said, “Josh, hardly anyone ever goes down the healing path if they don’t trust somebody else.”
Bob: Most people, because of their shame and embarrassment, just say, “I can’t bring anybody else into my life to help me with this. I’ve got to do it on my own;” right?
Josh: Yes, because of that shame. Unless you’ve been through it, Bob, you can’t—that shame is so powerful in your life—but if I hadn’t entrusted the shame—everything else—to others in the body of Christ that ministered to me, I don’t think I would have made it.
Bob: You’d still be locked up today, yes.
Dennis: I want to give you a great illustration of this. I recently had breakfast with a dozen wounded warriors. I asked these guys, “What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?”
Bob: You’re talking about guys who served in the military, who were physically wounded in battle; right?
Dennis: And those who are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. I didn’t know what I’d get. I didn’t know what kind of answers they would give me—whether it would be a battlefield story or whether it would be something else. It was interesting—out of a dozen guys—eleven—all said the same thing you just said, Josh. Now, this looks like these are two different issues, but they are not. The most courageous thing they’d ever done was admitting they needed help—
Dennis: —that they needed another human being to engage with them around their need—that they weren’t able to fix this thing themselves. They needed another human being; and they needed God, in the process, to reach through. That’s what you’re really saying here.
Josh: Yes. But here I want to reemphasize this—so much of what I came to know—about God, and Christ, and alive in my life, and everything—just didn’t come through prayer and the Scriptures. It came through the body of Christ ministering the Scriptures into my life—seeing it in their lives gave me hope.
When I saw Dick and Charlotte, and Paul and Leslie, and Jim and Vivian Simpson, I saw: “Man, there is a great marriage out there. Why can’t I have that? I can.” I watched them. I’d listened to them. I picked up little tiny things that still pay off in my life in my marriage to Dottie—that I never got from my parents.
Then, as a father—oh, I was afraid of getting married. After I got married, I was truly scared to have children because I was so afraid that I’d reproduce what my parents had. I didn’t want to have children; but thanks to God for Dottie, and for Paul and Leslie, and Jim and Vivian, and others around my life. I saw fathers who loved their kids. I saw fathers who spent time with their kids. I saw kids who loved their dad! I hated my dad, and this gave me hope.
So, where do you go to get answers? You go to those who give you hope. And that’s what I did.
Dennis: And Josh, I’ve heard you say on numerous occasions, “You took the family that you grew up in, and you used that wound to turn it into a scar that reflected God’s love for you.” You wanted to have a better family, a better marriage. You wanted to have something that was alive, not the kind of evil you had seen displayed in the home you grew up in.
Josh: You know, this is a conflict now. Remember, when I said that liberating time in my life—when I got down on my knees in that hotel room and I thanked God for my parents—for an alcoholic father, for being sexually abused, and they didn’t do anything about it—but I walked away saying, “But that’s not the kind of family I want.” I was thankful for the family I had—my mother and dad—but I didn’t want to be that kind of parent.
So, I believe one of the most powerful witnesses of a church needs to start with the pastor in the pulpit. Every church needs a pastor who has a loving, close, intimate relationship with his wife and spends time with his children to give hope to those single moms out there—single dads—to give hope to kids, like me—kids that are coming from broken homes that, “Look, it is possible!”
This is why, everywhere I go, I talk about Dottie. I can’t help it, but I also do it with a purpose. I want every kid that ever hears me speak that a happy, joyful marriage is possible through Christ, regardless of what your past is. I’ll stand, nose to nose, with anyone on that! So, I talk about my wife all the time.
Bob: Early in your Christian life, you had a chance to meet and to hear from the founder and president of Campus Crusade for Christ®, Dr. Bill Bright. Some of what he shared with you, as a new Christian, was transformative; wasn’t it?
Josh: Oh, yes. He came to Wheaton College—I’ll tell you, I was a fairly-new Christian. He said, “If any of you want to know how to really know God in an intimate way and walk every day in victory,”—something like that—he said, “why don’t you meet with me?”
So, Frank Kypher, Jim Green, Dick Purnell, and I met with him in the student union—in the cafeteria or the little coffee place at Wheaton College. He took a sheet of paper—hat I remember I took it. I didn’t let the other guys get it. I pulled it off the table and took it with me. He drew out about how to be filled with the Holy Spirit by faith.
I remember I walked out of there—I remember what he said was: “You need to, one—Desire it. Seek righteousness. Second—No unconfessed sin your life. Third—Every area that you’re aware of in your life—that it is yielded to Christ. Then, fourth—Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you.” I walked out of that time knowing I would never again, in my life, have the excuse to not know how to walk—filled with the Holy Spirit, by faith. To this day—of something directly from the Scriptures / outside the Scriptures—that directed my life—it’s been those four steps. I owe that to Bill Bright. The thing is he lived that before me.
Dennis: There is one other thing that I want you to just comment on briefly because I know this marks your life, as well, and had to have been used by God in your life to bring healing. You are a man on a mission. You’re not a victim, wallowing in self-pity. You get up every day on a mission to be a part of the Great Commission, making disciples of all nations. Comment on that.
Josh: I don’t get up every day. I get up early every morning. [Laughter]
Dennis: I stand corrected! [Laughter]
Josh: Well, when I came to Christ, I probably had an understanding of it far greater than I should have. I think the Lord just used the Scriptures that I’d studied before being a Christian and all and the right people in my life—I had this burning desire to tell the world, especially young people. I was all set for law school—full scholarship—everything. It was my life!
So, I left to go to UCLA law school. I’d made a lot of money. I started Superior Painting Company—sold it when I was a kid and made a lot of money. I had a brand-new MG sports car, and I took off for California. I got to Grand Canyon. There were kids there, from about 15 countries, going down to the bottom. I walked down with them and back. Dennis, that’s when I realized what I had; and they didn’t.
When I saw these young people, from all over the world, I realized what Jesus had done in my life, and the joy, and the peace, and all—that I came out of there—I got to California—and in the bathroom, I picked up this magazine. There was a little verse in there for Talbot Theological Seminary. I’d never heard of it. I had never even thought of seminary, but something just happened: “Go there!”
So, the next morning—it was Friday morning. I got up because law school didn’t start until Monday. I got up, drove over to Talbot Seminary, and went in. I said, “I’d like to go to seminary here.” The lady looked around; and she said, “Well, we don’t have an application.” I said: “I know. I never heard of you until last night.” She said, “Well, it’ll take two or three months to matriculate you, and get it through, and everything.” I was kind of relieved.
So, I walked out. I knew I was going to follow God if He wanted me to in that. As I got to the door, I said, “Well, who is the last person that I could talk to?” She said, “Well, Dr. Charles Feinberg”—very dedicated, Jewish, Hebrew scholar, who was a dean in seminary. I said, “Is he here?” “Yes, he’s in his office.” So, I walked right on. She said, “Well, you can’t…”—I opened the door. I walked in—walked up to his desk. I think I was really arrogant—I really do.
I walked up. I told him my story about how I went and read this—and I said, “I really don’t want to go to seminary, but God seems to”—and I said, “Can I go to seminary?” He looked at me. His eyes were big, and he looked out, at my car. He said, “Is that your car?” And the dumbest thing I said to Dr. Charles Feinberg—I said, “Oh, yes, man, you love and shove it. Shove it to the floor, and it loves to go.” [Laughter] I said that to Dr. Charles Feinberg. He looked at me and he said, “Young man, call Wheaton College. Have them airmail out your transcripts. You can start classes Monday.” I was crushed! I thought, “Did I just throw my whole life away?” I started classes. I was miserable.
But during that first two / three weeks, I dated a number of young ladies and everything. I was in Dr. James Christian’s Church History class. He made some statement, in the class, about me—about girls I’d been dating; and it was totally appropriate. Well, oh, it ticked me off! I get up—went up front to Dr. James Christian. I threw my books on his desk and said, “I’ve had it!” and I walked out to go to law school.
I walked out. Just as you come out of Biola and go to the left—now, they own it; but at that time, it was a junior high school. It was about five minutes to twelve. A bell rang, and kids were coming out all over the place. I’ve never shared this publicly. It was like I was frozen in time. I don’t know what happened; but in my recall—I couldn’t move. Kids were going out, all around me.
If ever I heard a voice from God, it was then. He said: “Josh, I’ve called you to reach young people. Don’t ever turn back.” I don’t know what happened there, but all I know is something happened. I turned around, went back into that class—because it ended at 12:30. In front of the entire class, I apologized to Dr. Christian for what I had done—what I had said. I’ve got to tell you. Every day of seminary, after that, became exciting. It went from a cemetery to a seminary. From that day on, I have never looked back. It just always rings: “I have called you to reach young people. Don’t turn back.” It doesn’t mean, “…until it gets rough,” no! “Don’t turn back.”
Bob: Well, and the point about being on mission—because the Apostle Paul said, “Forgetting what lies behind, I press on.” And it’s that focus on mission that is a part of what God uses to help make sense of our past.
Dennis: Yes, and Paul goes on to say—he says, “I press on to the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” And he says, “Let those of us who are mature think this way and if in anything, He’ll reveal it to you.” The idea was, “If you make a stupid choice”—like Josh nearly made at that seminary class that day—“God is plenty big enough to correct the errors and to get us going in the right direction.”
Josh, I’m glad that you went back into that class because you had a great impact on my life, as a college junior, who was dealing with issues of faith, and doubt, and struggling in my own faith. I wanted to follow Christ, but I just had a number of questions. You helped me answer those questions. You’ve been a great friend over the years. I appreciate you. And—
Josh: And now, you and Bob are answering questions of so many more. But just think—if I hadn’t gone back in, I could have been handling all your legal cases—all your lawsuits. [Laughter] I could have handled them for you, Dennis.
Dennis: That’s frightening, frankly. [Laughter]
Bob: You know, I think all of us are glad that you’ve spoken, and written books, and now, are sharing your story of your life in you book, Undaunted, and in the DVD. I think that’s better than lawyering could have ever been. We have Josh’s book, Undaunted, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center, along with the DVD—that is the movie of his young life. Both are available. If you’d like to order, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. That’s FamilyLifeToday.com. Josh’s story, as you’ve heard this week, is a compelling story—one you may want to share with friends who have come from a hard place in their own lives. The DVD is the story in movie form. It’s powerful, as well. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order these resources; or call, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. Call us to order at 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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This week, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” in a tangible way by sending you a copy of a conversation we had, not long ago, with Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. Their marriage story got made into a national movie about a year ago. Honestly, the story they tell is more compelling than the one Hollywood told. So, this week, if you are able to help support FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount, we’d love to send you our CD of our interview with Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”. Make an online donation, and we’ll send the CD to you. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone, and just ask for the CD with the Carpenters when you call. We’re happy to get that out to you. Again, we just want you to know how grateful we are to have you as part of the team, here at FamilyLife Today.
And we hope you can join us back again tomorrow. We are not inviting Josh McDowell back. We’ve had enough of him this week; but his wife, Dottie, is welcome tomorrow. And without Josh interfering, we’re going to hear from her what it was like to meet, and marry, and be involved in decades of ministry, side by side, with her husband. So, you’ll meet Dottie tomorrow. Hope you can be back for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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