Roger Marsh: In 1772, British poet and clergyman, John Newton, penned a famous hymn that continues to be sung worldwide. He wrote Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. You know how it goes. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see. Those incredible words still minister to people's hearts all these centuries later. This unwarranted favor of God should be a humbling concept to us. We did nothing to earn it and we can't do anything to lose it. God's grace is a part of his unchanging character. Well, today we are diving deeper into this important subject by revisiting a classic Family Talk program. Dr. Dobson's guest for this broadcast is New York Times bestselling author and well-respected Christian apologist, Lee Strobel. He has been our guest on numerous occasions for his many well-received books, but for this conversation, Lee and Dr. Dobson will focus on the book, The Case For Grace. This really is an eye-opening discussion on why this unmerited gift is so central to our faith. Lee Strobel will also open up about how he experienced God's grace in his own life.
With all that, let's get started now. Here now is our host Dr. James Dobson for this special edition of Family Talk.
Dr. Dobson: Let me introduce Lee Strobel to our listeners, at least those who aren't familiar with his work. He has a master of studies in law, a law degree from Yale Law School. He has spoken all over the world and he's also been a pastor. He is most known for his books, The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith and The Case for a Creator, all of which are award-winning publications. His latest book, The Case for Grace is an excellent read and it's what we're going to talk about today. Lee, I'm so glad to have you back.
Lee Strobel: Thank you, Jim. And I appreciate it. It's wonderful to be on your program.
Dr. Dobson: You have lived here in Castle Rock, which is about 45 minutes away from us, and that's given us an opportunity to work together on numerous occasions. But you're getting ready to move.
Lee Strobel: I am, I'm moving to Texas. I'm going to be a Texan.
Dr. Dobson: Going to Houston.
Lee Strobel: I had to buy a book on how to talk Texan, so I'm learning. And you know what phrase I've learned that they say in Texas, which I love. Instead of saying, thank you, it's perfectly acceptable in Texas to say, I appreciate you. I appreciate you. I appreciate you. [crosstalk 00:02:52] I like it. Doesn't that sound good?
Dr. Dobson: I graduated from high school down there.
Lee Strobel: There you go.
Dr. Dobson: In fact, I've lived in places all over Texas. I kind of consider myself a Texan.
Lee Strobel: Well, I appreciate you.
Dr. Dobson: I appreciate you. You have written so many books, those that we have talked about and others. And you really left your last assignment in order to do that, to leave time, to write. Why does that capture you and why are you leaving it now?
Lee Strobel: Well, I'm still going to continue to write and speak. I'm moving to Texas. You'll understand my main reason because it's that my two oldest grandchildren are there.
Dr. Dobson: [crosstalk 00:03:35] your wife down there.
Lee Strobel: That's right.
Dr. Dobson: That's for sure.
Lee Strobel: Exactly.
Dr. Dobson: Does Leslie want to go?
Lee Strobel: Oh, absolutely. We have a seven year old and a nine year old down there and they're just phenomenal. And we enjoy them so much. And they're homeschooled so we get a chance to participate in that educational process, to mentor them, to help bring them up. So we're thrilled about that. I'm also a professor Houston Baptist University. We've just started a Center for American Evangelism with the goal of trying to understand this unique culture of the United States, and how do we bring the gospel to this increasingly skeptical culture that we live in.
Dr. Dobson: Lee, we can't take the time to go through your entire resume, but spend about three or four minutes telling people about how you became a Christian.
Lee Strobel: Sure.
Dr. Dobson: Because you were grown.
Lee Strobel: Yes. Oh yes.
Dr. Dobson: And you were involved in journalism and not in a Christian setting. How'd that come about?
Lee Strobel: Right. I was an atheist for much of my life and my wife was agnostic and we had a fairly happy marriage until one day she came to me and said that she decided to become a Christian because she had met a Christian friend who had brought her along, answered her questions and loved her and brought her to faith. And I thought this was the worst possible news I could get. But I saw positive changes in her character and values over time. And that encouraged me to take my legal training and journalism training, I was legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and investigate Christianity. Does it make sense? Does it stand up to scrutiny? And so I investigated the evidence for science that I ultimately concluded points powerfully toward the existence of a creator who looks an awful lot like the God of the Bible and the evidence of history, which shows that Jesus not only claimed to be the son of God, but he did literally rise from the dead and thus authenticate his claim to being divine.
And so I came to faith on November the eighth of 1981 because the evidence I found to be compelling, and of course, I felt then convicted of my sin, repented of my sin, received forgiveness through Christ and intended to stay in journalism. I loved journalism. I loved the Chicago Tribune, but God had other plans and I ended up going into the ministry at Willow Creek Church with Bill Hybels and ultimately with Rick Warren at Saddleback Church. And it's been an adventure ever since.
Dr. Dobson: Well, you tell a lot of stories in this book, which is what makes it so interesting. And you're really trying to explain what it means to become a Christian. You don't have to earn it. You don't have to impress God. You have to give yourself to him unreservedly. I have your book in my hand now it's called The Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evidence of Transformed Lives. And you, of course, are a New York Times bestselling author. This is a good read because there's so many interesting things in it. I want you to start with your story, a fairly recent one. You almost went on to heaven, didn't you?
Lee Strobel: I did. My wife found me unconscious on the floor of our bedroom one night. She called an ambulance. And when I woke up in the emergency room, the doctor looked at me and said, "You're one step away from a coma, two steps away from dying."
Dr. Dobson: He told you that?
Lee Strobel: He told me, and then I went unconscious again. I had a weird confluence of medical complications that hit me. And the net result was I had what's called hyponatremia, which is a severe lowering of my blood sodium level. And what that causes, it causes your cells to take in water and as a result, your brain expands and you become mentally confused. You have seizures, you have hallucinations. Then you go into a coma and then you die.
Dr. Dobson: It's related to a kidney problem, isn't it?
Lee Strobel: Exactly. And I lost a kidney during this process. So here I am over a couple of days as I was getting worse and worse, I was mentally confused and I hallucinated. I hallucinated that I was in hell. I saw demons. I felt what it was like to be in a situation, even though I was hallucinating this, I wasn't really there, but I felt what it's like to be in a hopeless place and face eternity because I'm experiencing the horrors of what hell would be like with demons and fear. And there's a clock on my wall. And I went through about an hour of this hallucination and I looked and the clock had actually gone backwards on my wall. And what that registered in me was this is eternity. People have no idea that when we talk about hell, to be without hope forever where days could go by and isn't even a down payment on what is to come.
Dr. Dobson: Lee, that must have been terrifying.
Lee Strobel: It was absolutely terrifying. Absolutely. And my wife came home and I came out of the hallucination at that point. And she said, "You look terrible, what's wrong?" And I said, "Honey, do you think there'll be many people in hell?" And she said, "Well, why you ask?" And I just, I was so burdened by the fact that people who don't know Christ are facing something they cannot conceive. And you know what it's done for me, I thank God for this experience, as horrifying as it was. Romans 8:28, said God will use it for good. And he has in my life, he used it to make me more passionate about bringing the gospel to people to say, there is hope.
Dr. Dobson: You've come out of all that-
Lee Strobel: Come out of all that.
Dr. Dobson: No residual.
Lee Strobel: No residual. The doctor said this will never happen again. It was just a weird confluence of medical complications. But in addition to those hallucinations, I was convinced, in my mental confusion, that I had lost everything. That my wife was going to walk out of me. My children were going to abandon me. That I lost all my money, my house, my freedom. I was going to go to prison for some unspecified crime. And that God had walked away from me. And that is a horrifying thing to imagine. And my son, who's a PhD in theology, came up to me and said, "Dad, I think we need to pray." And he took me through a prayer exercise, took about an hour where we talked to God and stripped away all the identities I have. And we told God, "God, I'm coming here. I'm not coming as a father. I'm not coming as a grandfather. I'm not coming as an author or a pastor or any of these other identities I have."
And we just kind of through this prayer, stripped away, all of that until all there was, was God and me as his son. And getting to the root of that identity, I realized, wait a minute, what if I did lose everything? What if I lost every dime I have? What if I lost my house? What if I was convicted of some crime and sent to prison, lost my freedom. It wouldn't matter because I have a relationship with God.
Dr. Dobson: That changed your approach to the book you were writing.
Lee Strobel: It did. It did.
Dr. Dobson: To the emphasis on grace.
Lee Strobel: Exactly.
Dr. Dobson: Explain the linkage.
Lee Strobel: Well, I started on a journey to find grace and discover grace, sort of put together the riddle of grace. I did not have a good relationship with my dad. And we had an argument one night on the eve of my graduation from high school. And he glared at me and he looked at me and he said, "Lee, I don't have enough love for you to fill my little finger."
Dr. Dobson: You're kidding.
Lee Strobel: No. And I didn't know what to say. And I turned around and I stormed out of the house, never intending to return home. Lived in a boarding house.
Dr. Dobson: How old were you?
Lee Strobel: I was 18 years old. Now my dad and I, because of my mom's intervention eventually reached a sort of a detente, but we never really reconciled until he died. And so we never reconciled.
Dr. Dobson: He really didn't want you as a child, did he?
Lee Strobel: No. As it turned out, he had three children, a girl and two boys. And he was very involved in their lives, Cub Scouts and sports and all kinds of stuff. And then there was a gap of several years and he thought they were done having children. And then all of a sudden, my mom got pregnant with me. Surprise. And on my mom's death bed, we had a very candid conversation and she admitted to me that this was not a good surprise for my dad. And that explained a lot that maybe somehow my dad resented the fact that I had come along and he had other plans. He kind of did the father thing. He was wanting to go on to other things.
Dr. Dobson: So he really rejected you as a child.
Lee Strobel: Well, I wouldn't say rejected as much as we had a very distant, disconnected experience together. I can never recall ever going on a vacation for instance, with my dad.
Dr. Dobson: You didn't hunt together.
Lee Strobel: Didn't hunt together or fish or anything. He never came to my graduations or my speeches when I was in speech tournaments and never came to my little league games.
Dr. Dobson: Were you aware that there was something unusual about your relationship?
Lee Strobel: You know, you kind of blame yourself. And so it's interesting when you look through history, most of the famous atheists through history, Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche, Freud, down the line either had a father who they had a bad relationship with, or their father abandoned their family when they were young or died when they were young. And as Freud commented and others have observed, other psychologists as you well know, Doctor, that when a person has a disappointing relationship with their earthly father, they're not really keen on finding a heavenly father because chances are he's going to hurt them even worse. And I remember Josh McDowell telling me once, Josh had an alcoholic abusive father and Josh became an agnostic and Josh said, "people would tell me that there's a heavenly father. And to me that was bad news because my earthly father was a jerk. I didn't want that. That was bad news."
And for me, I think it was a factor in me becoming an atheist and it started a lifelong quest. On that day, it was interesting when I walked out of the house, never intending to come back and I'm trudging toward the train station with all my belongings in a duffle bag, I thought I was on a quest of revenge. I was fueled by hate. I hated my father and I wanted to prove to him I didn't need him. And I wanted some day to be a reporter at the Chicago Tribune and have him open up the newspaper and see my byline on a big exclusive. And I thought, "That'll show him, I don't need him." And so I had this very ugly, revenge filled attitude. But what I didn't realize at time was, I was actually starting a very different journey.
It was a journey to find grace. I could imagine a perfect father. I knew my dad wasn't the perfect father. None of us is, but I could imagine, "What would a perfect father be like?" He'd be loving and gracious and he'd be kind and compassionate and involved. And I would imagine that, and it wasn't until many years later that I realized, well, wait a second. There is a perfect Father. You know what, He does exist. And so that experience with my own dad propelled me forward in this lifelong quest for grace.
Dr. Dobson: Let's go right forward here. There are a lot of people that know what grace is. There are a lot of people listening to us who do not.
Lee Strobel: Right.
Dr. Dobson: Explain what that word means.
Lee Strobel: We can define it pretty easily. Grace is the unmerited and undeserved favor of God in our lives. It is his forgiveness, his gift of forgiveness and eternal life that he offers us, not because we deserve it, not because we've earned it, but because he loves us and so much that Jesus Christ, His only Son, goes to the cross, dies as our substitute to pay for all of our sins and then offers forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift of grace. That's what grace is. But what I've discovered is, we can talk about that and people go, okay. Yeah, yeah. That's interesting. But what makes grace really come alive, I think, are stories. Because when Jesus wanted to talk about grace, what did He do, he talked about the prodigal son. He told a story.
And so my book is about stories. It's about people of all different backgrounds, drug addicts, homeless people, nice guys, killers, a pastor who cheated on his wife, the son of a famous evangelist who wandered from God, all these different people who, in different ways, experienced God's grace and each story kind of shines a light on a different aspect of grace. So that at the end, I hope people will walk away saying not only do I understand it better now, but now I realize how much I need it and that it's available through Christ as a free gift. And I end the book with my dad's death.
I was in law school and I always wondered would I cry when my dad died. I didn't know if I would or not. And a guy came to me in the law school library at Yale and looked at me and said, "Your dad just died." And I cried.
Dr. Dobson: Did you?
Lee Strobel: I did. Uncontrollably. I went to his wake and I asked for the room to be cleared. And I stood in front of his casket, with just him and me. And the first thing I said is, "I'm sorry." I mean, I was sorry for all the ways that I contributed to our bad relationship. I mean, I pushed a lot of his buttons. I did a lot of things that justifiably made him mad. And then I said, "I forgive you." And that was a very releasing moment for me. But then something really weird happened. I sat alone at the wake in the corner and people started to come in, all this golf buddies and business partners and so forth. And a guy came up to me and said, "Are you Lee?" And I said, "Yeah." And he said, "Oh.", And he shook my hand.
He said, "I'm so glad to meet you. Your dad could never stop talking about you. He was so proud of you. When you got accepted to Yale law school, his buttons were popping. And when you'd have a byline in the Chicago Tribune, he'd cut it out. He was showing everybody in the office and he talked about your children and he just ... I'm so glad to meet you because I've heard so many great things about you from your dad."
Dr. Dobson: Isn't it amazing that he couldn't say it.
Lee Strobel: Exactly.
Dr. Dobson: He couldn't put it into words.
Lee Strobel: How would that have changed my life and his life, if he had said it? It doesn't matter what we think about people. We got to tell them. You've got to let them know. And my life would have been totally different if that had happened.
Dr. Dobson: Lee, we're out of time, but we want to do another program, if that's all right with you. Let's see if this phrase, or two parts to a phrase, make sense to you. I've heard it, it's not original to me. I wish I could claim it, but this is it. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. You're guilty. Mercy is not being punished. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don't deserve.
Lee Strobel: That's exactly right. Justice is getting what you do deserve.
Dr. Dobson: Yeah.
Lee Strobel: Mercy is not getting what you deserve, but grace is getting what you don't deserve. It's like being pulled over by a cop and you're speeding and you know what justice would be, you get a speeding ticket and you pay a fine, but he doesn't give you justice. And he doesn't give you mercy, which is just to say, Hey, look, you deserve a ticket, but I'm going to let you go. That's mercy.
Dr. Dobson: And you want to get out and kiss his-
Lee Strobel: Exactly. But grace is him saying, you know what, I'm not going to give you a ticket. And here's a cupcake. That's grace.. You didn't deserve that at all. And you know, it's outlandish, grace colors outside the lines.
Dr. Dobson: Well, there are many other stories in this book that will explain it. And let's talk about it next time. Lee, I appreciate your ministry and what you're doing. It's a real heartwarming thing to me to find somebody like you, who was an atheist, who was committed to the fact that there is no God, no one cares for me. There is no eternal truth out there. And then to have your eyes opened and realize that he's been there all the time. That is-
Lee Strobel: The power of God to change lives. To me, it's the most inspiring thing about-
Dr. Dobson: All about grace.
Lee Strobel: Yes.
Dr. Dobson: That's grace.
Lee Strobel: Yeah, for sure.
Dr. Dobson: Okay. We'll talk some more about it next time.
Roger Marsh: A heartwarming end to today's discussion on grace here on Family Talk as Dr. Dobson just mentioned, there is a second part to this conversation so make time to be sure to join us again on the next edition of Family Talk for that. There'll be continuing their conversation about Lee Strobel's book called The Case for Grace. In the meantime, visit our website at drjamesdobson.org to connect with Lee Strobel and learn more about his work. That's drjamesdobson.org and then visit the broadcast page.
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Dr. Dobson: You know, I'm told that when I was a very small child, maybe two years of age, my family lived in a one bedroom apartment and my little bed was located beside the bed of my parents. My father said it was very common during that time for him to awaken at night to a little voice that was whispering, "Daddy, daddy." My father would answer quietly, "What, Jimmy?" And I would say, "Hold my hand." And my dad would reach across the darkness and grope for my little hand, finally just engulfing it in his own. He said later that the instant he had my hand firmly in his grip, my arm would become limp and my breathing deep and regular. I'd immediately gone back to sleep.
You see, I only wanted to know that he was there. Until the day he died, I continued to reach for him for his assurance, for his guidance, but mostly just to know that he was there. Then so very quickly, I found myself in my dad's place and I wanted to be there for my children, not just a name on their birth certificates, but a strong, warm, loving presence in their lives. You see, a dad occupies a place in the child's heart that no one else can satisfy. So to all the men out there who are blessed to be called fathers, I urge you to be there for the little ones in your life who call you dad.
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Dr. Clinton: Hi everyone. This is Dr. Tim Clinton, Executive Director of the James Dobson Family Institute, wanting to take just a brief moment to let you know that we love, appreciate, and are praying for you. Our entire team here at Family Talk is doing that very thing. We also wanted to encourage you if you're struggling or you could use some encouragement to feel free to call us and pray with us. Our toll free number is 877-732-6825. That number again is 877-732-6825. Or you could also connect with us online at drjamesdobson.org. Thanks for letting us be a part of your life every day. We are going to get through this. Dr. Dobson said, "We are going to get through this challenging time," and we're going to do it together.