My name is Stephen Murphy. I am the Pastor of Dundalk Baptist Church. Let me share with you how I have come to know God in a real, personal way, and the change that He has brought to my life.
Like most Irish people, I was born into a Roman Catholic home. My parents were very sincere Catholics and as far back as I can remember I was told about God. Some of my earliest memories are of being brought to church. Part of my upbringing was that I was taught that God knew when we did wrong and that I needed to get forgiveness. As I grew older—at around 7 years of age—we were prepared for the Catholic Sacrament of Confession; now called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We went into a dark, wooden cabinet called a “confessional” and there we were to tell the priest our sins. He, we were assured, represented God and what we told him was as if we were speaking to God Himself. After that we received our “First Holy Communion”. In this Sacrament we were assured that Jesus Himself was eaten by us—although the actual wafer we ate tasted just like any other wafer of bread. We did not understand this but we were assured that we were not meant to. Faith, we were told, was believing what we could not understand.
Later on I was prepared for “Confirmation”, another Sacrament. This was where we were given the opportunity to personally affirm the vows made on our behalf at Baptism, which was administered to me as a baby of a few days old. It never crossed our minds to ask why we were not given opportunity to be baptised upon our own request!
So I continued as I suppose the average Catholic does; not questioning very often but just assuming that as this was (or so I was told) the Church that Jesus established then it must be right and therefore who was I to question?
Eventually though I began to question. As I studied History I saw the terrible story of murder, persecution, and war - as well as moral disaster that was the story of the church for most of its history. If this was Christianity then I did not want anything to do with it. I became in effect an agnostic. I never formally repudiated my Catholicism - I just let it go as far as having any impact on my thinking and actions. If there was a God—and I cannot say it bothered me much either way—then I would have to find Him, or He me, somewhere else.
In 1979 during the final year of my degree a number of crucial things happened. I studied the history of the Reformation for my final year. In so doing I was introduced to men who, on a much larger stage, asked the same questions that I knew had to be answered. Secondly, my fiancée (now my dear wife) Marie had begun to attend a Bible study. One of the teachers in her College was a Christian and opened her apartment for Bible study with the students after school. I attended and was impressed by the mixture of non-religious informality and a real seriousness in the approach to the Bible itself. She really believed it was God’s Word!
Following on from this we were both invited to a weekend away. At the weekend there were special speakers who spoke on selected topics of the Christian life using the Bible to do so. While this was interesting, what really got my attention was something else. Many of the young people at the weekend were Christians. They were in many ways just like me—or at least there was no single factor which differentiated them from me except one: they all claimed that they were “born again”. They claimed that they knew Jesus, that He was alive and that they had a relationship with God through Him. The disconcerting thing was that somehow there was something about them that almost made me believe it! They seemed to have a sense of peace and wholeness, which I knew that I lacked. And as I questioned them about it they continually brought me back to Jesus. Eventually they challenged me to check out all of this in my own Bible. That was a problem! Even though I was a final year student at a third level college I did not possess a Bible. Having bought one, I began to read.
I began my search in the Book of Acts in the New Testament. I knew from my History that this was the story of the early church. If these people were really Christians then what they believed would surely be there. Two things—at least—surprised me. Not only was the Christianity that I found in the New Testament like that which the young people talked about, it was not at all like what I had been brought up in! There was no hierarchy—no priesthood at all except that of Jesus Himself—the Book of Hebrews was very strong on this point. Also the Bible put the emphasis on a relationship with God through Jesus. He–and He alone—was described as the “Mediator” between God and His people. As well as these lessons that I was learning, I was struck by the authority of the Bible itself. By this I mean that as I read it—still an agnostic, albeit a more open one—I knew I was being spoken to by an authority greater than myself somehow through this book. Nothing had prepared me for this. I was faced with some serious decisions. I knew that what these people had was attractive—after all who does not want to be whole, fulfilled, have a real reason for life and a hope bigger than death? Also what they said and how they lived was what the Bible described real Christianity to be.
But was Christianity itself real? This was my final hurdle. I began to read again. This time I asked myself what question could I investigate—the answer to which would settle the reality of Christianity once and for all. It was—is—a big question! The New Testament ultimately stands or falls on a single issue: Is Jesus still dead or did He—as He promised and as the Church proclaims—rise victorious over death? If He did then all else He said and did can, and indeed must, be accepted on His say-so. If not then no matter what else He said or indeed how sincere the beliefs of His followers—then and now—it is not true.
The Resurrection? – How can you investigate that! Obviously neither I nor anyone else can time-travel and experience it. So how do we accept or reject historical claims? Ultimately it is on the credibility of the witnesses at the time and the integrity of the subsequent record. In other words were the apostles reliable witness at the time and does the New Testament accurately record what they experienced. As I systematically investigated all the theories that men have put forward to supposedly disprove the Resurrection of Jesus they all had one thing in common: they were all harder to believe—literally, more incredible—than the Resurrection itself. Take for example “the Disciples stole and hid His body theory” This is the oldest of the alternative theories—put forward by those (the Jewish leaders) who knew it not to be true! (See the end of Matthew’s gospel.)
Well of course the disciples in theory could have taken the body. Now this is, let’s face it, unlikely. They do not come across as those who would over-power the guard, which Pilate had instructed to be placed there. (Peter was afraid to face down a simple serving girl!) But allowing even this improbability, they would not only have to perpetrate this astounding act of bravery to commit a knowing fraud but also be prepared to die for that which they knew to be untrue! Most of the apostles died bearing unshakeable witness to the Resurrection of Jesus. Could it be that having met Him Who for their sakes defeated death, it conquered their fear of death? Surely a more likely scenario knowing the reality of human nature.
But what about the Bible–the Gospels, the Acts, and the letters? Can they be considered as good historical documents? The New Testament has literally thousands of early manuscripts still preserved. All the study of critics friendly and hostile has never dented the integrity of what it claims. In other words, those who have studied the New Testament and still don’t believe admit that it is not because they find the manuscripts contradictory but they simply reject the Message that the texts unanimously affirm! There is more evidence for the Resurrection than many of the facts we take without question from the rest of history!
I was convinced that miracle though it was, Jesus was and is alive! Now I was at the crossroads. I had seen the attractiveness of Christianity and of Jesus Himself. I knew that His claims were true. But if His claims were true, then His warnings and His invitations were true as well! He warned over and over that the kingdom of God was at hand and that we need to repent (Mark 1:15). He warned that not to believe in Him would mean to die in sin and that where He was I could never come. (John 8:21 & 24) He also promised that whoever came to Him he would never turn them away! (John 6:37) So on the 17th March 1980 upon His invitation, not able to change myself, I came to Him. He changed me. Firstly I noticed a sense of joy and peace. It was like finally coming home. Then day by day, week by week and year after year He continued—and continues to change me. Old habits die away. He replaces old attitudes with new ones. He is changing me to be more like Him. I know that there is an awesomely great distance still to go but I know something even better: The Bible promises that God who has begun a good work in me will bring to conclusion on the day that Jesus returns. Then I will both see Him finally and finally be like Him! It is all of grace. God tells us in His Word that His love for us is based upon Himself and what Jesus did at Calvary. I benefit from it even though I could never deserve to earn it! (Ephesians 2:8-10)
What about you? What God has done for me and for millions of others He can and will do for you. Would you like to know more about Him?