By: Steve Shirley
I grew up in an upper middle class, church going family of four (one younger brother), belonging to the Lutheran church. I was baptized as an infant, believed in Jesus, prayed, attended church regularly, and was confirmed. As I understood it, that meant I was a Christian and saved. However, I am pretty sure no one would have looked at my life and concluded that I was a Christian. Christ was certainly not at the center of my life. "I" was at the center of my life.
I had a difficult childhood/young adulthood. My problems were not as bad as some have faced, but there were a lot of bad moments. In my preschool years, I was pretty outgoing and I guess I could say "adventurous." This changed pretty quickly once I entered grade school. School was, and always has been, a challenge for me. I am not a quick learner, completely inept at math (past adding and subtracting), terrible at memorizing, and my brain is just unable to process anything complicated (I have come to see this as something of a gift in later years). I was also socially awkward. As a result of this and more, I turned into a quiet/shy child and something of a loner.
My home life during grade school and high school was even worse. I had a father who grew up in an abusive home with an alcoholic father. He carried this on to me. He was controlling, manipulative, relentlessly mentally and verbally abusive, and occasionally physically abusive. This physical abuse was not in the form of hitting, but in the form of such things as: wrestling with you "for fun" and "to make you tough" and pinning you so you couldn't breathe, or forcing you to get out of bed if you weren't quiet enough and do numerous jumping jacks and pushups so you would "get tired and fall asleep" (which obviously had the opposite effect), or speeding up and down winding roads and hills while driving to see if he could make me car sick and throw up because that was "funny." There are many other stories like this as well. I am not saying these things to belittle my father. He did not see these things as abuse and believed he was being a good father because he was a good provider, did not drink, and did not abuse me in the same ways he had been abused. I am sure that he loved me, but he just had no idea of how to express love.
My mother, on the other hand, was what almost anyone would call the perfect mother. She was the kind of the "mom" many other kids wanted, and was kind of like a "mom" to some of my friends, as well as my brother's. She was very loving and always there for me. I must say though, looking back, that she was pretty permissive, and let me get away with way more than she should have (I think probably in part to make up for my father).
However, as a Christian now looking back, the biggest mistake both of my parents made (and many parents make) was not having me and my brother in a church and children's/youth group that preached the Gospel and taught about the importance of a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This would have changed the whole course of my life during my school years. Instead, we were in a cold, dead church with only a few kids my age, who were just as lost as I was. (One story few can top is that I was "expelled for life" from Sunday School for refusing to write a prayer and say it out loud during class. This "expulsion" later got reversed .)
During high school, and especially during college, I had serious anger and depression issues. I tried to deal with this in many ways. Essentially, I was a partying (but thankfully, no drugs), womanizing, risk-taking, foul-mouthed, stupid mess. I was not wanted at high school parties or social gatherings, but was tolerated because I had known most of the popular kids for most of my life. I did have a few friends who were also "social outcasts" like me, but they were dealing with their own issues (my best friend from high school fathered a child and then committed suicide while I was in college...).
*** While this may be controversial, I personally do believe God knows who will one day come to Him, and always has known. I say this only because I believe God had His hand upon my life even before I knew Him. I see situations, looking back, where in all of the bad things I did, in all of bad things that happened to me, in all of the risks I took, my life could have gone SO much worse. There were even a few times I believe God stepped in to miraculously protect me.
I also buried myself in sports. I should add here that many of my difficulties in life were/are compounded by the fact that I am an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist to the extreme. Carrying this over to sports, I was a very good, but not great athlete (who was continually frustrated by the guy down the street who could beat me at every sport). In high school, I chose to run track/cross country. (I desperately wanted to be on the basketball team, but I was too short with a really ugly shot.) My perfectionism caused me much grief in running. I was not gifted to be a runner, but got further than I should have because I compulsively outworked everyone. I ran in the morning before school, at practice after school, and on my own when I wasn't at school. Then, when race day would come, I would push myself so hard, I would throw up at the end of every race. This got so bad, I finally quit track my senior year.
After high school, my father forced me to choose a four year college, and chose my Business major for me (I later changed it to Psychology). In an effort to get away from home and all of my problems, I decided to head off to college in a southern state. This appeared to be an easygoing, laid-back school, which I thought I wanted, but instead it was a nightmare for me. (I didn't know when I applied that it was voted one of the top five "partying" schools in the country.) Putting an angry, depressed, socially awkward mid-westerner in a southern college in a small town with no friends and nothing to do (before the age of computers, cable T.V. [it had just started and wasn't available so I could only watch one network channel], DVD/VHS movies, I-Pods, etc...) was a disaster! (How can any kid be "bored" these days?)
My problems only got worse. Over the weekends, almost everyone would go home to families and I would be alone. My struggles with school were magnified, and I literally spent days studying for tests that I often would barely, or sometimes not at all, pass. I was still partying (at the party school) and womanizing with people who cared nothing about me (on weekdays when I should have been studying). I dropped my involvement in almost all sports, except bowling of all things. I think my dorm room decor (during my two years of dorm living) was a reflection of my aimless, meaningless life at this time. I jumped from naked pictures of women in magazines on the walls (I don't remember how I was able to show my parents that room when they visited), to beer lights and posters (that I scored from a local beer distributor), to the 70's room (it was the 80's) with wood contact paper and mirror tiles. It is hard to describe how depressed I was. There were times I even entertained thoughts of no longer wanting to live.
However, my life was about to change. During my Junior year, while now living
in an apartment, I met a girl who was not like the other girls I knew. She was
fun, outgoing, friendly, honest, caring, and moral. I respected her. She was
also a Christian! She was to become my best friend (for life). We shared meals
together, fished, bowled, went to baseball games, and did a lot of other fun
things. After dating almost 2 years, we got married.
(I should also add that she was a brilliant, straight A student, who helped me get through a lot of my classes.)
I had completely turned away from church during my time in college, and was about as far from God as I could be. In turn, my girlfriend/wife had also not been as involved as she had been in earlier years. After spending our first 5 married months in our college town, while I finished my degree, we moved to the "big city" of Nashville for one year before moving to our long time home in Florida.
After arriving in Florida, my wife began to renew her involvement in church. I could see changes happening in her. She was talking more and more about the Lord, and it started to irritate me. She was spending more time at church, and that took time away from ME! She wanted me to go with her, but the things of God held no interest to me. Meanwhile, I began struggling with the same issues I had struggled with before, and was miserable again. I still jumped one thing to the next looking for happiness, only to find it fleeting. One of these new "things" I jumped to was gambling. I LOVED to gamble, and we had a dog track and Jai Alai near by. I spent several years doing this regularly. Thankfully, I never lost or won much because I am not a big spender (Let's say "thrifty"), but I enjoyed the rush it gave me. I also made playing basketball a new "thing," and played almost daily. Neither of these brought me any real happiness either though. In everything, I always kept holding on to the belief that "If I just get THIS, then I will be happy and my life will be better." It never was...
Unbeknownst to me, however, my wife and many others were praying for me.
In 1992, after 7 years of marriage, we had our first child. I tried to "clean up my act" some for her sake, but that was pretty much a failure. Two years later, in 1994, we decided to meet my parents for a vacation in Tennessee. I found out that there was going to be a Billy Graham Crusade around the same time in Atlanta, Georgia, so I planned our vacation for that time so I could go. When I was a child, my dad would always watch his Crusades on T.V. They really held no interest for me, but I always respected Billy Graham. And, deep down inside, I felt some kind of conviction that I needed to go to that Crusade.
My life was such a mess that I decided I needed to go and make a decision to "rededicate" my life to the Lord. Maybe that would finally bring me some of the happiness I was seeking. ("Rededicate" because I believed I was already a Christian because I had followed all "doctrine" my Lutheran church told me I had to follow to be saved...) When I entered the building that night, I was moved by the "power" I felt. About midway through the Crusade, a man got up to share "his testimony." It was amazing! I decided right then and there that I wanted to pray. Even though I was sure I was saved, I wanted to have no doubts. I called upon the Lord and asked Him into my life. I do not remember what I prayed, but I cried out desperately. I wanted a relationship with Him. I needed help, and only Christ could do it. At that moment, a peace swept over me that I had never felt before (the peace that passes all understanding: Phil 4:7). My anger was instantly gone, and replaced with calmness. I very quickly realized that I had never had a relationship with Jesus, nor even knew Him. I will NEVER forget that day or moment (Oct 27, 1994) for the rest of my life. Thank you Lord!!
*** I don't know if I have told this to anyone since that night, but very shortly after I prayed that prayer, the offering was taken up. As big buckets were passed up and down the aisles, the big bucket came to me. I don't know how, but it overturned and poured money all over me. I can't say with certainty if it was God or not, but I felt like God spoke to me at that moment and said "This is a sign that I am going to use you" (I don't remember if those were the exact words). I was overwhelmed.... (Yes, all of the money was put back in .)
What God has done in my life since that night has been amazing, fascinating, and nothing short of a miracle. I throw in the word "fascinating" because it is SO fascinating to me to see the process of how God has worked this miraculous turnabout in my life. The concept of "Come just as you are" is found throughout the Bible. God wants us to come to Him (through Jesus) just as we are. All He asks is that we ask for forgiveness for our sins (trusting in Jesus' payment for those sins) and are willing to repent and go in a new direction with Him in control of our lives. When we do this, WATCH OUT, because things are gonna happen.
I must honestly say that when I got back home after that night, the sins and negative things in my life really didn't change much. Obviously, when I got married, the womanizing stopped (although I still struggled with my thought life) and I no longer partied. But, other vices continued. I still played basketball continually, I gambled, I cursed, I had bouts of depression, and I still did not want to go to church. This was because I became bitter about my church and how it had mislead me. In my immaturity, I pretty much grouped together EVERY church as bad. I really had no idea what a good church was about or how it could help me. Thankfully, my wife took our daughters (our second was born the year after I was saved).
What is "fascinating" though, is that my desire for these vices became less and less. I finally gave up basketball, and the cursing that generally went with it virtually disappeared. I gradually lost the desire to gamble, and stopped. I lost my desire to listen to music with ungodly lyrics and got rid of bad videos (I love watching old cartoons now). After some serious trials in my life, I finally got into a good, Bible teaching church and loved it. I became less and less depressed about things (it still pops up from time to time), and my thought life began to change.
In conjunction with these changes, and what no doubt played a big part in these changes, was a burning desire to know more about God and grow in my faith. This happened immediately after I was saved. When I returned home after that Crusade, I began to read the Bible, pretty much for the first time in my life (I actually had to start with a Children's Bible because of my learning disabilities). I ordered and read every tract that was available from Billy Graham's sermons (like 300). I began listening to T.V. ministers, and even found one who had an abusive past, struggled with problems for years as a result, and now taught people how to overcome with God and the Bible!
September of 1998, was the start of probably the biggest change in my new Christian life. After waking up and praying on a Saturday morning, I strongly felt God leading me to get a computer and get on the internet. In my "thriftiness" (a cheap computer was about $1000 back then), I compromised and got this thing called WebTV that got me on the internet through my T.V. Shortly after getting online, I found "chat rooms." When I found "Christian" chat rooms, this opened up a whole new world for me. It was in these rooms that I began, for the first time in my life (in the safety of my kitchen ), to share my faith with others. God even used me to help some people come to saving faith in Jesus. Eventually, I, along with several others, opened our own Christian chat room called "JesusAlive." This was all VERY exciting for me, and really moved me to move to a new level in my faith.
As crazy as it may sound, it was also in these chat rooms that God showed me the calling on my life, one of my spiritual gifts, and my greatest burning passion: to teach the Bible. As people talked in these rooms, I began to see for the first time how many people, Christians and non-Christians, had questions about the Bible and God, and needed answers. Some were hurting, and in pain. I wanted to be a person who could supply those answers and help those who were hurting. As I saw, or was asked, questions I could not answer or things I did not know, I searched for answers. I poured over the Bible, read commentaries, looked up words in Bible dictionaries and a concordance. I could not get enough of this, and would spend nearly every free moment studying. (Five years earlier, I NEVER would have believed this could happen to ME!)
It was during this time that I got back into church. God began to give me more and more opportunities to grow and share my faith. I joined several small groups, started hanging out with other Christians, and even taught a Bible study at my house. I also had the opportunity to work at a Christian bookstore for many years.
Finally, in August of 2002, after much prayer, I felt lead by God to take all of the studies I had written and create this website. Since that time, I have added many more studies, and continue adding as many as I can with God's help. God has truly blessed this site over the years, and it is my prayer that He gets all of the honor and glory as I try to provide solid Bible answers and help to those He leads here. Please pray for me!
Since that night in 1994, I have faced many trials. In fact, I can say some of the worst trials of my life (including family and health). However, God has carried me through each one. And, as a result, I have come to know God in a whole new way. He has answered my prayers over and over. He has comforted me when I needed comforting. He has spoken to me or given me signs during many of my low points. He has healed me from much of my past. My father has apologized for many of wrong things he did to me while I was growing up. I have forgiven him, and our relationship has improved greatly over the years. (My mom and dad even got into a good Bible preaching church after 40+ years at the old one! God has also helped me to use my church past to help others with similar backgrounds.)
I am blessed in more ways than I can count. I have two beautiful, amazing, Godly daughters (one of which, as of this re-writing, just returned from being a missionary in Ireland for a year). I have been married to my beautiful, smart, hard-working, on fire for God wife for 28 years now. Our Father is indeed a loving Father! Thank you Lord!