On Sunday nights, dad and the house church men would sometimes take me trot-lining with them. We’d take a couple of boats out and string out the long trotlines, weighted at both ends with plastic milk-jug floaters in the middle and multiple baited hooks.
My dad knew just where to go. We’d catch all kinds of fish, but the best were the big Opelousa cats. We’d bring whatever we caught back, and Dad would clean the fish and cook them. He’s a great cook, and the men loved it.
But Dad did more in the river than just fish. He also baptized people. Men and women who were in trouble somehow found their way down to our house, where my dad and mom would stop what they were doing and talk to them.
In our living room is where I first started to realize that there was something to this God stuff my dad was always talking about.
These people would come in looking like they’d been down a long road and were worried, unhappy, unhealthy, and just plain scraggly. Dad would talk to them about God and Jesus as I was sitting there on the couch, watching and listening.
Pretty soon he’d take ’em down to the river and baptize them. I’d see them later, singing at church, but they looked different — happier, healthier, changed from someone you might run away from to looking like the nicest person you’ve ever met.
There’s something to this, I began to think. I knew God was real, but there was something powerful happening with the words my dad was using out of the Bible. And my dad not only shared Jesus with people, but he also helped people.
Mom and Dad always took people in — vagrants, criminal types, and people with mental problems. Word got around. If people had a cousin or a friend in trouble, they’d offer Dad up: “There’s this guy who lives down by the river. People come to see him. He can help you.”
It didn’t matter where you came from or what you were like. Dad would welcome you in and talk to you. People have compared him to John the Baptist, baptizing people in the river. With the hair and the beard, he even looks the part, and he played the part of John the Baptist in a play at church one Christmas.
I also saw my parents live out their faith in real time as they took people in to our house. It wasn’t unusual for people to be living with us while they tried to get their lives straightened out. Dad ran a little boot camp of sorts, taking people hunting and fishing and showing them how to do good honest work, in between nightly Bible studies. Sometimes we even had people sleeping on the floor. I saw what it meant to really love your neighbor.
I listened to Mom and Dad, watched what they were doing, and saw what a difference God made in these people’s lives. When I was thirteen years old, I told Dad I was ready to be a Christian, and he baptized me in the river too. I loved church, loved the Bible lessons, and had good friends there.
But then things changed.
I’d started experimenting with some things I’d never done during my straight-and-narrow childhood. I knew right from wrong — my parents had taught me, and I’d been in Bible classes for years, so I had a strong conscience that generally kept me out of trouble. But by my junior year I’d started hanging out with a like-minded friend, and together we started cutting up. Then I started drinking. A broken ankle and the loss of my basketball scholarship dreams led to more of this behavior and left me disappointed, angry, and with a bad attitude getting worse all the time.
Back when I was in the middle of that crazy time of drugging and drinking, I remember feeling guilty once in a while and knowing I needed God. But then the thoughts would come. I’m not good enough. Or I’m just not quite ready. I think that’s the number one excuse because you’ll never be perfect, and you’ll never be ready.
Getting right with God and getting rid of the bad stuff in your life takes time. You have to take it one step at a time. It’s not easy, I’m not perfect, and I still struggle.
In fact, it took me a while to wrap my mind around the idea that church was about getting to know God and getting right with God, and that it didn’t have to happen in a church building. I finally began to understand when I realized that the act of going to church hadn’t saved me from my bad choices before.
My ritual of going to church services to please my parents and keep the peace in my family hadn’t meant much because my heart hadn’t been in it. I had been far more interested in parties and girls and cuttin’ up than getting to know my Creator and Savior.
That all began to change as I studied the Bible with my dad, spent time talking to my mom, and let the Word of God begin the process of changing me. It didn’t happen overnight, and there were stumbles along the way, but I worked hard to let go of the chase for the perfect high and, instead, started on the chase for a godly life.
I also realized I was blessed to have spent only six months in the pit of alcohol and drug abuse. My brother Alan had struggles that lasted a few years, and my dad was a prodigal for ten years. But I had the advantage of three brothers and two parents who saw me messing up my life and who stepped forward to pull me out of the pit.
I understand now that the longer you stay in that kind of life, the worse you get and the harder it is to change. My dad had to lose just about everything, including his business, his wife, and his sons, before he turned to God. He was blessed in that my mom forgave him and let him come back.
Phil and Miss Kay have left a legacy of love for their children and grandchildren. They’ve been teaching us their whole lives what Christ has taught them about love, sacrifice, forgiveness, and grace.
We want to carry on the Robertson legacy with our old and new friends, including those who know us from the television show.
It’s a little scary to know we’re being watched, but we look at it as a privilege to be able to show who we are and how we live our lives to so many others. We work hard to love each other and love others.
But in the end, it’s our children who are most important. We want to carry on our family legacy with our four children and someday our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s an awesome responsibility to be parents and to know that
what we are doing with our kids will have eternal consequences because we know this world is not our home — we’re just passing through.
Watch The Good, The Bad, and The Grace of God Video
Excerpted with permission from The Good, The Bad, and The Grace of God by Jep Robertson and Jessica Robertson, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2015.
While many people grow up in the church, that doesn’t mean they adopt the faith of their parents. What have you done to make your faith your own and to encourage your kids in their own faith? Come join the conversation on our blog! We want to hear your thoughts about passing on your faith to your children, or the children in your life — grandkids, nieces, nephews, students, athletes on a team you coach, neighbors, kids in your Sunday school class, or any little ones in your influence.