My name is Gary Abud, Jr. and I’m writing from Detroit with sincere gratitude.
I grew up going to church on Sundays and going through all the motions of the church tradition in which I was raised. Yet, even still, it was not a personal faith for me and it never really changed my life. I was a cultural Christian at best, punching the clock, as it were, on Sundays, but living as if God didn’t exist Monday through Saturday.
It just seemed to me like everything on Sundays was done to please God so He would accept us, and that was all that mattered—what I did, not what He had done. That made me feel like I had control over how God responded to me, because the emphasis was always placed on what we did on Sundays, while the rest of the week didn’t seem to matter.
It just seemed to me like everything on Sundays was done to please God so He would accept us, and that was all that mattered—what I did, not what He had done.
I grew tired of just going through the motions and found the whole thing disingenuous. Once in college, I majored in philosophy and science, and I was confronted with challenges about God from professors and peers that I could not resolve. It shook my shoestring-thin Christianity to its core, because the way I grew up, you didn’t question God or matters of faith. We leaned on millennia of tradition and our family’s own roots in the Middle East that traced back to the ancient Christian fathers. It was all presented to me as mere “mystery,” but that didn’t satisfy me one bit. At that time, church traditions seemed like a smoke and mirrors act to guard an empty faith that was wholly unfounded. So, I kicked God out of the car of my life in pursuit of my new god—career—and put myself in the driver’s seat of my life. Little did I know that ambition was actually the driving force and I was but a passenger.
For quite some time that approach panned out well; it brought me great worldly success. Yet with every achievement, I continued to feel emptier inside. I sacrificed everything, including my family, on the altar of career and built my identity on my success. And it worked—until it didn’t anymore.
At the height of my career success, I was invited to speak at a TED Talks conference and meet with the president at the White House. It was the best of times, but it was also the worst of times. My wife was literally packing her bags to leave me, taking our infant, and I was going full tilt toward my own demise, but I didn’t even realize it.
It was then that the questions of God and faith and life and meaning all resurfaced, but this time I was the one asking them. At that time, I encountered faithful Christians from around the U.S. in an exclusive leadership development program in which I was participating. I raised some of my long-held wonderings about God and questions about Christianity to them. And would you believe it? To every point I raised, the response was “you need to read King’s Cross.” So I left that experience accepting the challenge to find this book that supposedly had the answers I was looking for. It turned out that it pointed me to another book that truly had the answers I was looking for—the Gospel of Mark.
When I first read that book, which was by that time retitled Jesus the King, I was drawn to the teaching of Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath. Therein I found a Jesus who was unlike any I had ever encountered before. This Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their empty religious traditions and offered a rest in Himself from our striving. This showed me a Jesus who is rest itself and introduced me to a Christianity that was not about what you did to get God’s love, but how God’s love could get your heart—and that would transform your actions.
This concept ran so counter to my lifelong experience with faith that it profoundly affected me to the point that I could no longer ignore the truth and began seeking God with all my heart. I was missing the Gospel before then; I couldn’t fully grasp why the Good News was good news for me.
But you see, I am also a double cornea transplant recipient, which stemmed from a childhood eye disease that took my sight in my late teens. And to get a cornea transplant, someone had to die so they could donate their eye tissue—it was something I couldn’t have done myself. It was a gift I did nothing to earn, and one I could not repay to the family members of my donor. Quite literally someone had to lose their son in order that I could have my sight back. Reading about the life and death of the Son of God in Jesus the King prompted me to look back on my eye surgery and recognize exactly how God’s grace worked and what Jesus did for me in a very personal way.
I sacrificed everything, including my family, on the altar of career and built my identity on my success. And it worked—until it didn’t anymore.
Little did I know that, all along, God had been actively pursuing me and calling me to Himself. That book helped me to grasp who Jesus really is, what He really did, and what it actually meant for me. I came to realize that there was not only a different God out there than the one I had constructed for myself, but that there was also plenty of good evidence to consider the claims of Christianity as sound.
Throughout the book, I learned that what we know about God must come from what we know about Jesus, because He is God in the flesh. And that comes from knowing what God has revealed to us in His Word, which teaches us about God so that we might know Him rightly. It was a working-from-the-finish-line-backward approach, I might say, to a right theology.
And of this kind of right theology, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “the more knowledge [of God] I know, the more it should drive me to seek to know God.” That’s precisely what God did through your book for me. It not only ignited, but fanned into flame a newfound desire for God that led me to see, love, and worship Jesus as king—to worship the God of scripture, not the god of my own making. I then read more books, listened to Tim Keller sermons and found myself being transformed by my emerging faith in Christ.
Coming to faith didn’t happen instantly for me, but the breadcrumb trail leading me to a saving personal faith, the waters of baptism as an adult, and a life committed to Christ became apparent only when I looked back. But one thing was clear: God used your ministry as a key piece of my coming to faith.
And the fruit, which that faith produced in my life, was what God used to save my marriage, rescue me from an identity centered on career, later carry my wife and me through a years-long battle with infertility, medical treatments, and adoption. It later led me to pursue a calling into lay ministry working in apologetics, evangelism and discipleship in my local church.
There is so much more I wish I could share to illustrate the ripple effect that God has had in my life through your work, but suffice it to say that my life has been profoundly impacted and transformed by Christ.
I used to live a life that was success-chasing and far from God, but I have since come to count it all, like Paul in Philippians 3:8, as worthless compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. And so, I praise God for how He has used your ministry to reach people and bring someone like me to faith in Christ through it.
I know that I am not the only one to whom God has used your ministry to illuminate the truth of Jesus Christ, but I nonetheless wanted to let you know that I have found where my true identity really lies—in Christ—and for that I truly thank you.