Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Seeking Him


“Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, and He will abundantly pardon!”
Isaiah 55:6-7

"And you will seek Me and find Me, when you
search for Me with all your heart."
Jeremiah 29:13

It is a very humbling experience at times to publish a personal blog, or to post on social media some sort of journal chronicling one's walk of faith. As I work on this first post of 2019, my heart yearns to simply be silent about some of the details of the previous year, and to carefully guard myself against those who might misunderstand my motives, or who would desire to discover some kind of ammunition to use against me. Nevertheless, what I have experienced needs to be told, and what I am learning needs to be taught.

The verses above from Isaiah and Jeremiah have always rebuked me when I have been too busy to spend adequate time in the Lord's presence. And they have also reminded me that His promises to restore my position of fellowship, renew my passion for worship, and reinstate my power for ministry are hinged upon my simple acts of faith, repentance, and surrender. Faith is necessary to seek, call, and return to the One who says that He can abundantly pardon. Repentance is required in order to forsake our ways and our thoughts as we complete our u-turn towards Him. And surrender is revealed in that this can only be accomplished by those who long for new experiences of His divine grace and delightful mercy with all of their hearts. To seek Him in such a fashion means that you must be all in. This promise is not for the worldly minded, fence-straddling, carnal hypocrites that can so often dominate a local church. This promise is reserved for those who long to see God work in mighty power, even if it costs them absolutely EVERYTHING!

I believe that God is showing me and calling me to a deeper level of intercession in this new year. I hate to admit it, but my commitment to a strong prayer ministry has often been diminished by the demands of a more visible ministry. If you are a pastor, you know very well what I mean. Hospital and shut-in visitation, families in bereavement, couples needing counseling, sermon preparation, community outreach, youth and children events, committee meetings, and the list can go on and on. These are good, necessary, and important areas of ministry in a church, but if we are not careful, they rob us of the most pressing issue of life: SEEKING HIM!

Changes have taken place that have been both emotionally upsetting and personally challenging for me and my family during the past year. My ministry assignment in our home church was terminated in September, a decision that was very disturbing. This is not what I envisioned as the year unfolded, nor is it an experience that I would wish upon anyone. As a result, I was forced to return to my previous employment of driving charter buses for ACR Coach. God has used this scenario to show me that I may not currently have a ministry opportunity that occupies a great amount of my time, but I can now invest more time in intercessory prayer for needs around the world. Those hours that I would normally invest in meeting the needs of hurting people, can be spent praying for pastors, denominational workers, missionaries, evangelists, seminary professors, etc. (I can also spend time praying for the owners, staff, and the many drivers that I have learned to love and enjoy working with at ACR. Which should be a reminder to all of us that are gainfully employed outside of a church field or home business: we are on the mission field wherever we might be at all times.)

I recently observed from a distance as a friend was named President of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. As Paul Chitwood undertakes this new assignment, my heart aches over the challenges that he will face, the decisions that he must make, and the pressure that he will endure in this strategic role of ministry. What can I do for this brother? I can pray for him! And I can pray for you, and I can pray for the biblically focused churches of our land, and I can pray for the Spirit of God to work wonderfully in and thru all of our lives for His glory around the world.

If you have encountered changes in your life that has caused you to rearrange your normal routines and activities, I implore you to use the added time that you might have to become a prayer warrior. We desperately need to experience seasons of refreshing from the hand of the Lord, and no one can close Heaven's door to you, but you! "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near...And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." AMEN!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

My Last Drink

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging.
Whoever is deceived by it, is not wise!"
Proverbs 20:1

The two most popular articles that I have posted have been those about with my personal conversion ("1983") and my thoughts concerning the use of alcoholic beverages ("Don't be Stupid!"). Realizing that we still face the reality of deception concerning the use and abuse of alcohol, I felt moved to expand my experience of God's merciful deliverance in my own spiritual journey. So many differences began to take place in my life when I trusted Jesus Christ, that many people who knew me well were confused and concerned at my transformation. This does not mean that I was instantaneously delivered from the power of sin, for that is an ongoing process that continues today through what the Bible calls sanctification. Yet even in my baby steps of faith, I began to display a love for what I once hated, and a hatred for what I once loved. Friends and family may have been shocked at what was happening in my life, but God was not surprised at all, for this was His plan from the beginning of time as we know it. The Bible says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:8-10

When I came to a saving knowledge of God's grace available through repentance and faith in His Son, I had no idea what a strong noose had been wrapped around my life by alcohol. Drinking was not just a casual pastime or occasional habit, it was a controlling lifestyle. As a new born babe in Christ desiring the pure milk of His word, I was immediately convicted by His indwelling Spirit that I should separate myself from all temptations to consume alcoholic beverages in any type of setting. This was quite a challenge while living on a college campus, and I'm sure I often failed to be as strong in Him as I could have been. When I eventually moved into my own apartment the following year to prepare for my upcoming wedding plans, victory was easier to experience. After all, I could barely afford the rent and utilities, so groceries were sometimes unaffordable. With that being the case, the holy desire for bread would easily overcome the unholy desire for beer!

After Tammy and I pledged our vows to each other, the inner struggle to loosen and remove this noose began to be further realized. Yet even then I found it difficult to disconnect totally and completely from this monstrous destroyer. When we gathered with some of my old friends where alcoholic beverages were available, I would seek to blend in and have a few drinks. Tammy never fussed or berated me in any way, but I knew her strong stance on complete abstinence, and I certainly did not want to upset nor disappoint her. Another problem during this critical time of spiritual development in my life came from some within our own church family. Whenever our pastor mentioned the poison of alcohol in a scathing way from the pulpit, I would hear some men, who were very influential in my life, standing outside together after the service and saying something like this: "I don't care what the preacher says, I can keep it and drink it in my house if I want to." Another would say, "I agree, beer in my refrigerator is not going to send me to Hell." Listening to statements like these that came from the lips of church deacons and Sunday School teachers, softened my resistance. I still refused the temptation to have these beverages in my home, but I decided that the occasional use of alcohol in certain settings must be okay. After all, that's what I heard these church leaders saying, and I knew that they would not say or do anything wrong.

I was still growing in the Lord during this time, so I was certainly not actively looking for a party to attend or a gathering of some kind that might help me drink socially. In fact, I was assuming more and more responsibilities in our church family, and was even getting invitations to speak at other events in some of the local churches in our area. It was also during this time that I accepted the job of assistant manager at the Oktibbeha County Co-op, a local farm and ranch supply store. Our manager, Gerald Jackson, was a great guy and a wonderful mentor to me in this new endeavor. Another man of great influence was a regional salesman who called on us several times a month. He was a lay speaker in the Methodist church and very active in the Gideon ministry. I never remember a time that I saw him that he did not have a Gideon New Testament in his shirt pocket. These men, as well as numerous others, were about to have a profound impact upon my life in a way that I could never imagine.

Not long after the rush of the spring season at the Co-op had passed, Mr. Jackson informed me that we would be going to a manager's conference at the co-operative headquarters near Jackson, Miss. Leaders from all over the state, along with some from Louisiana, would be in attendance. I was very impressed when we pulled up to the multi-storied glass and steel structure, and was even more in awe of the building when we stepped inside to a beautiful vestibule with a remarkable water feature. We made our way to a very large, theater styled conference room, filled with tables and leather chairs, that gave every attendee a good view of the podium and platform. When our CEO called the meeting to order with a few opening remarks and announcements, he called on our Methodist/Gideon friend to come forward to lead us in prayer. I thought, "Wow! We're coming together as a secular company and will start this meeting with prayer! I like this!"

After the meeting, we were instructed to move to the dining hall for a wonderfully catered meal, complete with an entertaining speaker from Louisiana who was extremely funny. His performance was wholesome and family friendly, a Cajun version of the late, great Jerry Clower. Our CEO returned to close the evening by inviting everyone to take advantage of the long evenings of summer by staying and enjoying a time of refreshments outside. When we exited the building, I discovered that refreshments meant alcoholic beverages. Several kegs of beer were available, as well as a couple of bartenders to serve mixed drinks. Immediately I felt uncomfortable, but I lost sight of Mr. Jackson among the 200 or so men who were mingling and talking. I finally spotted our Methodist/Gideon friend from behind, and was approaching to ask him about Mr. Jackson, when he turned around and I saw him drinking a beer from a plastic cup. He had a beer in his hand, and a Bible in his pocket. Immediately I heard the sound of other church member's voices saying, "It's okay to drink socially and moderately, it's not going to hurt anybody." Seeing what I saw, and hearing what I heard, I walked to the bar.

It had been quite a long time since I enjoyed the taste of an ice cold brew. One cup led to two. Two cups led to three. Three cups led to four. I then decided Coke and Jack would be good, so I began to drink several mixed drinks. As the sun began to set and the bar was about to close, some of the guys decided to confiscate the open liquor bottles and the remaining kegs of beer and take them to our motel to continue the party. I helped them load up everything we wanted, then unloaded it and carried it all up to one of the guest rooms. Several guys left and returned with a large amounts of snack foods for everyone as we continued drinking. Another group eventually left, then returned as well, carrying several paper sacks. As they began to empty their bags and throw pornographic magazines to everyone still in the room, an inner voice began to say to me, "Get out, get out!" When the last two men walked into the room, one had a VCR player that they had rented, and the other had a box full of x-rated movies. The guy with the VCR saw that I didn't have a magazine in my hand, so he instructed me to turn the television around and help him set up the video player. As my hands touched the TV set, that inner voice began to scream, "GET OUT! GET OUT!" Needless to say, I left immediately.

When Mr. Jackson and I arrived for additional meetings that next morning, I was still contemplating all that had transpired the night before. He went into the dining hall for breakfast, while I sat down near the water feature in deep thought. After a few minutes, a very tall man walked up to me, extended his hand, and said, "Brother Charles, I want to meet you." This greeting startled me, for it was the very first time that anyone had used the endearing term "Brother" in front of my name. Those of us with a Southern heritage realize this title is one that shows respect to those who serve in some capacity of ministry. Helping me to my feet, he then said, "The reason I wanted to meet you, is that I'm from (and he named a town that I cannot remember, but I do know that he mentioned a place in south Mississippi) and heard that you are preaching when you have the opportunity and sharing your testimony of what God has done in your life. I think that's wonderful, Brother Charles, God bless you."

I stood there speechless as he walked away, and sensed myself shrinking from nearly six feet tall to about two inches. Mr. Jackson returned in just a few minutes and I told him about this encounter. I described the man's facial features, his unusual height, and where he said he was from, and Mr. Jackson said that he didn't know anyone like that, and that he knew everyone associated with the Co-op. "I watched him walk into our meeting room," I said. "I'll show him to you." But when we walked into the room, which was about half full at the time, he was no where to be found.

"I don't see him, Mr. Jackson."

"Well, I don't either, and he couldn't go out that exit door without setting the alarm off. I'm not sure who you met, Charles, because I've never met a man like you just described to me."

During all of the subsequent meetings, my mind was on two things: my foolish actions the night before, and this stranger that had spoken to me that morning. Riding with Mr. Jackson back home, he talked the entire time, yet my mind was still occupied with my stupidity and sinfulness. As he talked, I prayed. I finally remember praying something like this: "God, I have often prayed that I might be delivered from the evils of alcohol. I have asked you to do this in the past because I know that it is not good for me. But now, Lord, I realize that it's not about me, it's about You. Oh, Jesus, alcohol is not good for You. It robs You of Your glory. It destroys Your testimony. It's about You. Please Lord, deliver me from this deceptive evil not because of the harm that it can cause me, but because of the harm it causes You!" Tears streamed down my face as I looked out Mr. Jackson's truck window that day. He had no idea that I was involved in a moment of intense spiritual warfare. Nor was he aware of the great victory that God gave me that day in his pick-up truck. For that prayer, coupled with God's amazing grace, broke the chains of alcohol over my life once and for all. I had consumed my last drink.

Years later as my mind remembered this experience, I began to consider Hebrews 13:2, where the Bible says, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels." I have often wondered: Did God send an angel to intercept me that day before I reached a point of no return? I really do not know the answer to that question. But I do know the reality of the experience. The Lord so touched my heart through the words of this man, or angel (if that's the case), that it forever changed my life. As the hymn writer said, "To God be the glory; great things He hath done!"

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Spiritual Leaders: Born or Made?


"He who leads, should lead with diligence."
Romans 12:8

In my previous post concerning spiritual gifts, I referenced the teaching of Dr. Charles Stanley, who is the long time pastor of the First Baptist Church, Atlanta. In his study, Ministering through Spiritual Gifts, he states that the seven gifts named in Romans 12:3-8 are perpetual gifts, while the other gifts found in the New Testament are only revealed during special circumstances. He states that every believer will have one of these seven perpetual gifts, perhaps more, but one will be more dominate than the others. He also says that these gifts are resident in a person's life at birth, and will become fully operative for its God-given purposes after that person is born again. He further says that these "gifts span the course of a person's life. They might be manifested in slightly different ways, in different situations, with varying degrees of intensity, but the identity of the gift remains intact and is unchangeable." Because leadership is listed as one of these seven perpetual gifts, and because of Dr. Stanley's belief concerning these gifts, the question that I posed in the title of this post should be re-visited. Are leaders born or made?

I have often been involved in discussions concerning leadership, both spiritual and secular. Some argue that leaders are born, while others argue that leaders are made. I was blessed to become friends with Dak Prescott when he was the third string quarterback at Mississippi State University. Because of his size, I thought he was either a tight end or linebacker. He was an exceptional young man that I had numerous conversations with. He was polite, kind, humble, and would eagerly listen to me as I shared biblical truth with him. As he eventually led MSU football to unprecedented success, I read articles of his leadership. It was interesting to read how as a high school player coming to Big Dawg Camps, he would vocally encourage and uplift the other players going through difficult workouts and weight training exercises. As a teenager, Dak displayed leadership skills that are now well known from his success as a Bulldog, as well as with the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL.

In my final semester at MSU, I was in a class focused upon personal skills and techniques of successful leaders. Just a few weeks into the course, we were divided up into groups of seven to eight students. We were told that we would be getting an assignment to form a corporation, and each group would have to name a president, vice-president, and a secretary/treasurer. We were then told to form our chairs in circles, according to our group placement, and discuss and decide who the officers would be for each corporation. I remember like it was yesterday as we noisily moved our chairs around to get in place. In my group, there were a couple of students that I had met in other classes, but the rest were basically strangers. I looked at the other students, who were all quiet and looking at everyone else in awkward silence, when I finally said: "Okay, let's do this. I'll begin with me, giving you all my name, where I'm from, why I chose this particular major, and any other pertinent information that might be helpful for us to know each other. Then we'll go around the circle and allow each of you to do the same. That way, we can make an informed decision concerning our corporate officers."

After everyone had the chance to speak, I said: "Alright, we should now discuss who needs to be our president. Any suggestions?"

A guy immediately said, "You, I move that we name you as our president."

"Why me?"

"Because you've already started acting like our president, I nominate you."

"I second his nomination," was the reply of a young lady, "and also move that the floor be closed for any further nominations."

Well, guess what? I became the president! The student who nominated me became the vice-president, and one in our group who was getting a double major in business management, along with banking and finance, was named our secretary/treasurer. When our professor realized that all groups had named their officers, he asked for a list of names from each corporation, and had us return our chairs into their regular location. Then he said: "The corporation assignment is over with. Later in the semester, we will have case studies and assignments to prepare you for the corporate world. But this brief exercise was all about recognizing leadership qualities. I believe that leaders are born, not made. Now we are going to discuss why each group chose their particular officers, and how they chose them."

I realize that others think differently. In one of Bobby Bowden's books on leadership, he states that anyone can be groomed, coached and encouraged to become a great leader. I understand what he said, but I don't fully embrace his analogy. I am convinced that Dr. Stanley is correct, and especially is this so in the spiritual realm. Leaders are born. There is something unexplainable about a person who has that take-charge attitude. Yes, those with leadership skills need to have those skills developed. The opportunity to hone those skills are invaluable in preparing a leader to face greater, and more diverse, responsibilities. And in this honing process, personal failures are often the catalyst for ultimate success. In fact, Bowden said, "People that are brilliant and successful, we think they've just always been that way. That's not the case. Most of them have had some tough adversity in their life. It's prepared them. I've never felt like you could develop character without adversity. A guy who has all the money he needs and never faced any hard times, he won't have any character. But when you've had it tough, and you've had it rough, and you thought you were at the end of the rope, and you work your way out of it, that's the way you build character." Though I may not agree with everything he says about leaders, I whole-heartedly agree with Coach Bowden's understanding of adversity preparing and maturing a person to possess strong leadership qualities.

Do you have the spiritual gift of leadership? If you do, it's not because you desire to be the head hog at the slop hole! Please excuse my country humor, but I trust you can understand that simple terminology. If you desire to lead so that you might have the preeminence, you've not been gifted with spiritual leadership. This mindset clearly demonstrates a self-centered, egotistical, and unhealthy focus upon the praise and applause of men. Those who are gifted as true spiritual leaders will be those who express the attitude and actions of Christ, Who got up from the table, laid aside His garments, took a towel to gird Himself, and washed the disciples feet. Jesus is our example of an humble, pure, holy, and perfect leader. As we follow Him and His example, it will be no problem for others to decide to follow us. Why? Because they will know that we are following Jesus. Amen!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Spiritual Gifts


"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, 
and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for
the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."
Ephesians 4:11-12

The past two years have been incredible experiences of God's grace. When my nephew approached me during the invitation on Father's Day of 2016 to ask me to go with him to the altar, I knew that the Lord was going to do something new and fresh in my life. Since that experience I have been challenged often concerning my daily surrender to His leadership, and He has placed within me a strong desire to make His word known in a variety of ways. My focus remains locked upon Jesus. I am secure in His love, and I will praise Him for all that He is doing, and shall do, during the remaining years of my earthly life.

Years ago a dear pastor friend, Jim Holcomb, told me this: "Charles, you are a prophet. And with this spiritual gift that God has entrusted unto you, your journey will not be easy. Those who are prophets are often lonely, despised, and mistreated. You know this, you've read their testimonies in scripture. And I've seen the prophet in you time and time again. I've prayed with you when your tears would flow like a river for the lost and backslidden, revealing your tender heart of love and compassion. But I've also seen you stand firm against the lying tongues of those who misunderstood and hated you, displaying a backbone of hardened steel. You're a prophet. Life and ministry won't be easy for you, but always remember this: God loves prophets!"

This is somewhat like the word that Bill Stafford said in a conference when he was scheduled to preach following my message. It was the first time that he had heard me, and I'll never forget his words when he stepped to the pulpit: "My-my, Bro. Charles, what a message to the church. Amen! You know, son, I've been praying for you throughout my ministry. Yes sir, you are an answer to prayer. Amen! For years, YEARS, I've been praying that God would raise up someone that can make folks mad faster than I can. You're that man! AMEN! Yes sir, that's the message this modern, apostate church needs to hear. They don't want to hear it, but they need to hear it. Praise God! You're style of preaching, mercy, it'll knock the shout out of 'em, brother. AMEN!" For those of you who knew Bro. Bill when he was healthy, you can hear his voice and see his face, as he tells me this with that big, wonderful smile. I was subsequently blessed to travel around the world with this precious servant of God working in affiliation with the International Congress of Revival.

Ron Lynch, an evangelist friend, encouraged me years ago as I was entering into a season of itinerant ministry: "Charles, pastors need to hear you. They won't invite you to come to their churches until they hear you." This was long before the use of social media and internet sites made it so much easier to see and hear someone. But following a hard message I preached at a conference on revival, where we were sharing the preaching responsibilities, he said: "Charles, I've been telling you that pastors need to hear you. But I'm telling you, man, if they hear that kind of message, they're not going to have you!" I love these three men, and I have wonderful memories of fellowshipping and worshiping with all of them that I hope to cherish for the rest of my life.

What spiritual gift, or gifts, has God given you? I believe that there are twenty-seven gifts that are revealed in the New Testament that God sovereignly chooses to give His children. Charles Stanley believes that seven of these gifts are "perpetual" in nature, while the others are "seasonal." He teaches that the perpetual gifts are placed in a believer's life while they are developing in the womb, and these gifts stay with that person throughout their life. These seven are prophecy, service, teaching (which also includes pastoring), exhortation, giving, administration, and mercy. The seasonal gifts, however, come upon a believer when a basic need arises that requires supernatural attention. Examples would be evangelism, wisdom, hospitality, tongues, intercession, miracles, etc.

Although some might argue over the exact number of gifts, or take exception to the way Dr. Stanley puts them into two separate camps, the truth remains that all of God's children have been given certain spiritual gifts. And these gifts equip all believers to do the work of ministry, which results in the edifying, or building, or strengthening of the body of Christ. Therefore, important questions must be asked: Have you discovered your spiritual gifts? Are you developing your spiritual gifts? And are you displaying your spiritual gifts?

Do not be fearful, nor intimidated, to serve the Lord Jesus with the gift (or gifts) that He has so graciously given to you. Perhaps your gift will be a little more palatable than those who are gifted as prophets. But if He has given you a gift that will cause you to be misunderstood, or even despised when you use it in His power, do not be afraid, beloved, for He has promised to never leave you, nor forsake you. Praise the Lord!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Don't be Stupid!


"For God has not given us a spirit of fear,
but of power and of love and of a sound mind."
2 Timothy 1:7

If you have read my story of saving grace (post entitled 1983), you know that I spoke openly about my life and lifestyle before meeting Christ. I chose not to embellish upon the depth of my depravity, for you can certainly read between the lines and understand how far into the darkness that I traveled. In the past, I have boldly declared more openly my horrendous sin, to the degree that some pastors asked me when they discovered that I would be preaching my testimony, "Will this be the PG variety, or the R-rated version?" Some of these men heard me share my story in prison crusades, where I chose to bare my soul to those who were helplessly locked away from family, friends, and freedom. In those settings, I refused to withhold punches in presenting the power of the gospel to change any man's life!

One area, however, that I choose to be more open about today is the curse of alcohol in my past. I come from a family heritage with an intense problem of alcoholism. I'll not bring shame upon those that I love dearly that were hounded by this monster, but I will say that as soon as I began pleasure drinking as a teenager, it quickly began to control my life. I simply could not get enough, and before I was saved, I was consuming massive amounts of both soft and hard liquor products. When I drank beer, it was not one or two single cans or bottles, it was one or two six packs, sometimes more. Hard drinks were consumed straight out of the bottle, usually a fifth at a time. If I decided to mix, it would be half and half, some kind of Coke product and PGA (pure grain alcohol).

Why share this information? Basically for three reasons:

1. There were those who knew of my salvation experience who pointed me in the direction of  counseling for my alcohol abuse. They desired that I get professional and community support from groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. I have the highest respect for these kinds of organizations, as well as for Christian counselors who seek to minister to people with these kinds of problems. Yet I joyfully discovered that by the grace of God, I had the Holy Spirit living inside of me, and He had no drinking problem. In the course of time, my personal dependence upon and desire for alcohol was completely broken by the power of the indwelling Christ!

2. Because of the longevity and depth of my abuse, some believed that I may have suffered irreparable brain damage. When someone is intoxicated, they have reduced the oxygen level in the blood, and replaced it with ethanol. This not only alters short term behavior, but it can lead to long term complications due to damaged brain cells. Thank God this was not true for me, or perhaps He gloriously intervened with a miracle in my case, repairing those injured cells.
       Before graduating from MSU, I was called into the office of the head of the Management department in the College of Business and Industry. Sitting in his plush office, he opened a folder and said, "Charles please help me to understand your grades. I have your transcript from your previous experience at another university, as well as your grades since transferring to State. You have been on a steady progression the longer that you've been a student here. In fact, you have a 3.85 GPA in all of your business courses, and a 4.0 in your management classes. As a lifelong educator, what is the explanation for such a remarkable improvement?"
       Not only was he the department head and a lifelong educator, but I also knew that he was an admitted agnostic. Saying a quick prayer, I replied: "Dr. Ray, you may not want to believe this, but the simple answer is Jesus Christ. My life was a royal mess when I transferred to State, and not long after arriving I met Tammy (she worked in the Management office at that time), who led me to faith in Christ. I know that you are not a believer, but after I had an experience with Jesus, He opened my eyes to see the importance of an education, how blessed I was to have a second chance, and that I should no longer pursue the things of this world, but apply myself to do my absolute best in the classroom."
       "Well, Charles," he replied, "thank you very much. I appreciate your sincere answer. You've really given me something to consider. I enjoy having you as a student in my class, and every time I see you, I'll think about what you have told me."

3. The final reason in sharing my experience with alcohol, is because of the lax attitude among so many church members about this deceiving, destroying, and damning fact of life. I am hearing that some seminarians and younger pastors, who have a theological slant towards Calvinism, will drink socially. There are even those who will promote the smoking of fine, expensive cigars (claiming a personal enlightenment that liberates them from legalism, as well as a silly desire to be like Charles Spurgeon). The Bible says, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whoever is deceived by it is not wise." The Bible also says, "The thief does not come but to steal, kill, and destroy." I believe he uses alcohol to destroy the lives, marriages, faith, homes, careers, testimonies and futures of those who listen to his lying tongue! And finally, the Bible says, "drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God."
       Yes, I've had those who blow up and get in my face about Jesus turning the water into wine. My questions have always been: (1) Do you know of a certainty that Jesus drank this miraculous product? And (2), were you there to drink it so that you know beyond a shadow of any doubt that it was fermented wine instead of good, fresh fruit of the vine (grape juice)? The Bible says, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whoever is deceived by it is not wise." I've had others speak of Paul's instruction to Timothy, "use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities." Isn't it wonderful that Timothy could use these beverages for medicinal purposes? Yes, it certainly was. But why didn't he just go down to the local CVS and purchase some Maalox, or some Tylenol PM? Oh, that's right, he didn't have a CVS, nor any other kind of pharmacy. Therefore, he had to use what was available to him. Do not try to justify your petty little arguments about purchasing "medicine" at your local liquor store to a man who nearly had his life destroyed and his eternity damned by alcohol!

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whoever is deceived by it is not wise." What a simple, straight forward verse of scripture. Before I mellowed as a communicator of the gospel, I used to tell folks that the country-boy interpretation of that verse would be: "Wine (and beer) are mockers, and anything stronger than those are raging, and if you are deceived by these, you are stupid!" Now, now, don't get all mad, remember, you might be reading the thoughts of a man with brain damage.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

1983


Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new"
2 Corinthians 5:17

Thirty-five years. Thirty-five incredible years. 1983, for me, slowly evolved into a very good year, a life changing year, a year that altered my dreams, my destiny, my desires, and my devotion. It was the year that I would meet a beautiful young lady who would gently, yet firmly, share the truth of Jesus Christ with me. It was the year that I would hear her witness, and eventually pray for God's grace to be real in my own despicable life. Thirty-five years. Thirty-five incredible years of walking with Jesus. Thirty-five years...

In June of 1983, I had no idea that I would soon be a student at Mississippi State University. My life began to unravel during my final year of high school. This unraveling spun totally out of control as a Freshman seeking to find my way at the first university that I attended. I say that I was a Freshman, but I actually began my experience of higher education as a Sophomore, as I had received advanced credit for all of my core Freshman courses based upon my ACT score. I accepted an academic scholarship that covered all of my tuition, books, room and board, along with a meal plan for dining in the school cafeteria. This university had very high expectations for me as a student, and I was about to royally disappoint them. My first semester was more or less uneventful as I was trying to adjust to my new surroundings. By the time classes resumed in January, I realized there was much more to college life than classes, homework, tests and term papers. I decided I should make a few corrections to my lifestyle as the semester ended very poorly, but changes externally didn't produce any internal adjustments. My second year would not be finalized, as I was given an ultimatum during the spring semester by the Dean of Students to either withdraw from all my classes and leave the school voluntarily, or be expelled and escorted away by campus police. He said that I had twenty-four hours to make up my mind, but I decided before leaving the building to sign the necessary documents, gather my belongings, and head for home.

To be perfectly honest, I do not have any recall as to the reaction of my family. They knew the circumstances, and I'm sure their hearts were broken over my foolish choices and decisions. But it was the spring of the year - an extremely busy season in the Mississippi Delta - and I resumed my position on the farm. I began to work again for my two uncles, which I had been doing since I was about age twelve. Returning home and working didn't solve my problems, however, as they just intensified with a steady paycheck. Now I had those finances that at one time hindered me from fulfilling much of my wicked desires. With money in my pockets, I could expand my horizons when it came to searching for new adventures, usually entailing wild parties, loud music, ample liquor, illegal drugs, and plenty of loose women. It was also amazing how many friends I amassed with my ability of foot the bill. Like the prodigal in Luke 15, I hand plenty of friends, as long as I had plenty of money.

It seems that with each decision that I would make, circumstances did not get any better, they only got worse. Uncomfortable encounters with family, as well as with the law, would cause me to make promises that I could not keep. The book of Proverbs says, "As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool returns to his folly." My life was a perfect example of that eternal truth. In the first few weeks of 1983, I befriended a man several years older than I, and he quickly introduced me to new companions that carried me deeper into the darkness. There were times when we struck out on the trail for new experiences with the wrong crowd, that would have me absent from my family and from my job for days at a time. Funny how working with family always keeps the door of employment open for you, when you really should have been fired. Some of these adventures I can barely remember. I vaguely recall where we planned to go, but I cannot recollect if we ever made it to our destination, what happened while we were there, and how we made it back home. Life during that time was like a dense fog, and how I lived through it is a testimony of God's mercy.

June, 1983, as far as I can remember, is when my precious Mom finally had enough of me and my ways. I had broken her heart too many times. She confronted me in the garage with anger, fear, love and rage all mixed together. With her hands on my shoulders, she shook me as best she could, crying and saying, "I don't know where you'll go and what you'll do, but you've got six weeks to get out of my house! I can't take this anymore!" I looked at her beautiful face, all red with emotion and covered in tears, jerked her hands off of me, and walked inside. To be totally honest, I wanted to hit her. As I pondered this encounter, I knew I had to make plans, but I couldn't think of anything. I didn't know it then, but Mom was practicing tough love on me before James Dobson ever wrote a book about it.

Before the dust settled from this episode, I came home from work one day to find out that a dear friend from high school was going to be home for a few days from Mississippi State, and she wanted to see me. Lisa had done quite well at MSU. Good grades, really popular, school beauty, Homecoming Queen, etc., and this girl wanted to see me while she was home. I got ready as fast as possible and drove at breakneck speed to Scott, Mississippi. In the midst of my excitement, I had forgotten that Lisa was a Jesus girl, and as soon as I got reacquainted with her, she began preaching to me about my lifestyle. The audacity of that girl, for if there was one thing I really despised, it was anyone meddling in my life and preaching to me! Oh well, as beautiful as she was, I could endure her sermons for the opportunity to just look at her.

In the midst of those few visits with Lisa, she talked at length about me trying to get back in school, and making a fresh start at MSU. Since I had the ultimatum from my Mom, with a time frame of getting out of her house, I decided to take Lisa's advice and call the number that she gave me about transferring to State. The lady on the phone had a nice voice and was very kind. When I told her the reason for my call, she informed me that I had just missed the deadline for applying as a transfer student. My heart sank, but then she said, "I tell you what, I will mail you an application today, but promise me to fill it out and mail it back the same day that you receive it. That means that you need to secure a copy of your transcript from your previous college, so that you can be ready to send it back to me on the very same day. You promise me that you'll do this?" I assured her that I would, and she bid me a pleasant farewell. When I got off the phone, I immediately began to wonder what kind of response she would have to my transcript. I thought surely she would burst out laughing and show everyone in the office what kind of idiot I was for trying to enroll at MSU. But since I promised her I would do it, I thought, oh well, it won't hurt anything to try.

July, 1983. To my utter amazement, I received a positive letter from MSU not long after I mailed the requested material to the Office of Enrollment. I had failed to meet the deadline, my transcript was atrocious, and yet I was reading an acceptance letter that opened with this word in all caps: CONGRATULATIONS! As I continued reading, my heart sank. Yes, I had been accepted, but it was on a probationary status, and only about twelve hours of course work would be accepted. Plus, all of the advanced credit for the core Freshman courses were deemed unacceptable. As I read the letter, I thought, "Well this is just dandy, I'm 21 years old and will have to sit in classrooms alongside immature teenagers with zits and fake ID's." But at least I had the problem solved as to where I'd go, and what I'd be doing, even before my Mom's tearful deadline had come to pass.

August, 1983, was moving time. I was fortunate to be able to secure a room at Arbor Acres Apartments, a university owned housing complex on the south edge of campus. Friends from the Delta had their names on a waiting list to get into this brand new facility, and they had enough space for me to join them. Life was good as I tried to adjust to my new surroundings. I was living with old friends, learning the layout of campus, and beginning to understand that there were some extremely popular establishments near Mayhew and Columbus that existed to make sure college students had enjoyable experiences outside of their educational demands.

During the second week of classes, my roommate asked me if I had purchased the necessary books for each of my courses. "No," I responded, "I really haven't thought much about that." He encouraged me to get some books, so that if I decided to attend a class, at least I would look like I belonged in the building. When I finally located a list of all the books that I needed, he said that he would go with me to the bookstore to help me gather all my supplies. The place wasn't very crowded, since most of the other students had already gotten what they needed. When I mentioned that I didn't know where anything was located, he asked for my list, and told me to stay where I was until he found everything for me. He quickly disappeared, and I as I turned around to see what else might be interesting to find, my eyes landed on the most beautiful young lady that I had ever seen. She was tall, trim, tan, and TERRIFIC! You've heard of love at first sight? Well, it was something like that, but rather than love, it was lust at first sight! Holding a book just a few feet from me, her eyes were looking at a list somewhat like mine, then glancing at a shelf filled with additional material. I walked up to her with a smile and said, "Hey there, can I help you find anything?" Believing that I was one of the student workers, she responded, "Yes, I've already gotten most of my books, but I came back for just a couple more and can't seem to find this one," as she handed me her booklist. Not having any idea how I might help this beauty, my friend returned with his arms loaded down with what I needed. "Hey, thank you, perfect timing." I said. "Now I need you to find this book for this young lady." When he returned with her book, we headed to the register, where I stood behind her and recorded her name and phone number as she completed her transaction with a personal check. Sort of creepy? Yes, but a man's got to do what a man's got to do!

Needless to say, she was somewhat surprised when I called her later that day. We agreed to meet at a high school football game the following evening, as I learned that she had just graduated from a local private school, and she already had plans to attend the game. The next week, we saw each other on campus quite often, and I decided that starting anew at MSU as a Freshman wasn't all that bad. We didn't have any classes together, but we were often in the same buildings, and could enjoy brief conversations in the hallways or outside near the entrances.

I tried my best to get her to enjoy the dark side of life, but that was to no avail, as she had her guard up against my kind of pleasures. I would back off for a while, and we would simply take in an occasional movie, have a milkshake date, ride around in my sports car, or attend a MSU football game. A few weeks into our relationship, I pulled up outside of a very nice duplex in a quiet, older neighborhood in Starkville, and asked her: "You see that little place? Doesn't it look nice and quiet? I'm beginning to get tired of the constant noise at Arbor Acres, and thought a place like this would be perfect, if you would agree to move in with me. What do you say?" Since she didn't say anything, I thought that she didn't understand the great proposition that I was making, so I repeated myself. Following more awkward silence, I asked her, "Tell me something, what do think about me? Be totally honest, what do you think about me?"

"Do you really want to know?" she finally said.

"Yes, certainly, I wouldn't ask if I didn't want to know." I replied.

"Well, for one, I despise your smoking cigarettes. They make your car stink, and they make you stink. They make my clothes stink, they make my hair stink, they make me stink, and I don't like to stink."

"Anything else?"

"Yes, every time that I'm around you, you are drinking some kind of alcoholic beverage. You keep whiskey under the seat, or you have a small cooler of beer with you in your car all the time. At your apartment, that's all you ever have to drink. And even on campus, as you walk around with that stadium cup going to class, I know that you've got some kind of alcohol in there. Drinking is all you do, and I don't like it."

"Anything else?"

"Yes, your language is atrocious. I have never heard someone with such a vile tongue. If you get mad, it is unbelievable what comes out of your mouth. But even in normal conversations, you use filthy curse words. It's horrible, and I can't stand it."

By now, my feelings were quite bruised, but what could I say, it was all true. "Anything else?" I mumbled.

"Yes," she said. "I am very tired of the constant pressure you put on me to go to nightclubs, pool halls, and these off campus parties that you always seem to know about. I don't like those kinds of places, I'm not comfortable in those environments, I don't want to go, and I don't want to be pressured to go. In fact, I refuse to go, and if you and I are going to continue to have any kind of relationship, on or off campus, then you need to go to places that I like to go!"

"Okay, so where do you like to go?"

"I like to go to church."

With that response, I felt like reaching over, opening the door, putting her out, and saying, "See you later." But there was something about her beautiful smile, those big, brown eyes, and that silky, shiny, dark hair. This awesome young lady was slowly melting my calloused heart. Pulling away from the curb, I asked, "Uh, where do you go to church?"

"Friendship Baptist Church, it's right behind my house, and you need to go with me."

"So you're a Baptist? That's wonderful! So am I!" I exclaimed. She didn't seem to be very impressed at my compelling statement of religious identity. I'm sure that she realized there's a huge difference between being a saved Baptist, and a lost one.

The time frame is a little foggy after this encounter. I continued to speak to this young lady on campus whenever I saw her, but I was uncertain of my next move. I realized that I wasn't going to convince her to embrace my lifestyle, yet I was helplessly drawn to her honesty, sincerity, and to her breathtaking beauty. She was so different from the party girls that I was accustomed to spending time with. They were usually loud, crude, foul-mouthed, and aggressively seductive, especially when they were all overly intoxicated. Even as I attempted to immerse myself in my usual routines when the sun went down, I could not help but think of her, and what she might be doing. I was still drinking heavily, swearing profusely, smoking constantly, partying nightly, and fighting occasionally, whenever I felt my manhood was clearly challenged. My schedule was full, but my heart was empty.

I finally decided that I should approach her about coming out for a Sunday service. I'd been to church services before, many of them. I had joined the Baptist church in my Delta hometown when I was ten years old. Church activity and attendance had at one time been a very important part of my young life. Besides, I had even prayed publicly to close out our services on several occasions. Sometimes I'd still be drunk from the previous night's party, or about to vomit with an intense hangover, but I could offer a few religious words with the best of any hypocrite. She told me what time to arrive to pick her up, that I was welcome to come to her home after the service for Sunday dinner, and we could spend the afternoon together. It sounded appealing, but I didn't make an immediate commitment to join her. Thinking about her invitation brought a few thoughts into my mind. One, she is knock-out gorgeous every time that I see her, but I felt that she would really set a high standard for a church service. Two, a home-cooked meal for a guy in college would be priceless. And three, if I didn't come out to sit with her through the service, some other dude might get the privilege. Well, those thoughts sealed the deal, and I told her that I'd come on out and go to church with her.

The little building had a nice crowd of people when we arrived. We took a seat almost at the very back. I didn't bring a Bible, I didn't help them sing, and I sure didn't bring money for an offering. My goal was to endure the service, enjoy the lunch, establish a better relationship with this young lady, if at all possible, and get back to Starkville before she tried to get me to stay for the evening service. I already knew that she attended all of the functions of the church, including those on Wednesday nights. I really thought that was strange. Why would a beautiful young lady go to some kind of prayer meeting, when there were so many other things to do that would be fun?  I really enjoyed the idea of having a dazzling girlfriend with Baptist convictions, but I didn't like the idea of her being a religious fanatic!

What I did not know, however, was that in that little building on that particular Sunday morning, God was going to call my name. Her pastor did not know anything about me, yet as he preached with passion and zeal, he made a statement that shook me deep on the inside. It was as if there was no one else in the building, and that he was speaking directly to me. At some point in the midst of his sermon, he said rather authoritatively, "It makes no difference how good your mother is, if you die without Jesus, you'll be in Hell forever!" Judging his delivery as far as being seeker sensitive was concerned, it was awful. In today's world, it would make the snowflakes need coloring books, smiley stickers, and a puppies to pet in a designated safe space. But judging his statement based upon what I needed to hear that day, he hit a grand slam! My Mom's prayers, I believe, had secured a wall of protection around me as I lived such a self-centered and foolish life. Some of my friends lived the same kind of lifestyle, and it took them to an early grave. In drunken stupors, I had bragged how that my Mom was praying for me, and that God would not allow anything to happen to me that would break her heart. To me, this was just a way to validate my destructive habits with a false sense of security. But now this preacher man had just nailed my sorry hide to the wall.

I could not escape this sobering experience. I didn't say anything to anyone, but my heart was deeply touched, and my mind was securely engaged to consider eternal thoughts. The following week was filled with a thorough self-inspection and spiritual evaluation. I was thinking about what my life had become, compared to the loving expectation of those who watched me grow up in my tiny hometown. I began to consider all of the biblical truth that I had learned as a child at the Duncan Baptist Church. Memories of Sunday School, worship services, revival meetings, Vacation Bible School, and youth events and activities danced in my head. At that time, although I had been patiently and lovingly taught the word of God, the only truth that I remembered from the Bible, was that someone, somewhere, said, "You must be born again." I didn't know who said it, and I didn't know where I could find it, but I remembered it. As I pondered this biblical truth, I asked myself, "Is this what happened to me when I joined the church at the age of ten? I remember the revival meeting, and I remember some of the details of my coming forward. Is this what happened to me? Was I born again?" Immediately, I could sense the Lord powerfully intervene, as He answered this question in my heart, "NO!"

Walking to and fro on campus was an unbelievable experience of God consciousness. As I spoke pleasant greetings with other students, faculty and staff, it seemed as if everyone responded, "You must be born again." Sitting in class and preparing to write notes, I experienced the same phenomenon. It seemed as if all my professors were writing on their white boards, or their overhead projectors: "You must be born again." I know this was not being said or written, but this is what I heard and saw. God's Spirit had me in a corner, and He would not allow me to escape. During this time, I lost my taste for alcohol, parties didn't appeal to me, and going out to night clubs was pointless. I didn't know it then, but this is what's called Holy Spirit conviction: To wrestle with God over His supreme right to control your life; to be allowed the privilege of having blinded eyes partially opened to His blinding light; and to have deaf ears beginning to hear His voice calling you from spiritual death to everlasting life. It is one of the most troubling encounters you will ever have, and one of the most wonderful. I've heard people say, "Well, I've never experienced anything like that. Holy Spirit conviction? My soul, I don't have the foggiest notion what you're talking about!" My only reply can be, "I'm so sorry, it's a terrible tragedy to be spiritually dead, and not even know it." You see, beloved friend, the only way that you can be converted, is to first be convicted. No conviction? No conversion!

I knew that it was time to be totally transparent with my beautiful young friend. She invited me to come have supper with her at her sister's house not too far from Starkville on a Thursday evening. When I arrived, I entertained her little nephew, who had just celebrated his first birthday a couple of months earlier. After supper, we sat alone on the couch together watching television, when she asked me, "Is anything the matter? I have never seen you so quiet." Several days without alcohol had my mind working deeply, and my mouth staying shut, which was a rarity. As soon as I tried to answer her question, I was deeply overcome with emotion. I began to cry uncontrollably, which was a horribly embarrassing.

"What's the matter? Are you okay? What's going on?" she asked.

"I'm lost! I'm lost!" I cried, "If I died tonight, I'd go straight to Hell!"

"But you told me you were saved, that you were a Baptist," she responded.

"I lied! I lied! It's all been a lie!" I said, continuing to weep.

When my eyes first saw this young lady, and my heart was filled with lust, I approached her with the calm confidence that she would be my next "trophy" to conquer. Little did I know that just a few weeks later, I'd be confessing my sin to her, crying profusely like a baby, as she held me in her arms and whispered over and over again into my ear, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!" I spent several hours in that home as she told me how I could be saved. I tried to refute everything she told me as I recounted my sordid, pathetic life, and declared that God couldn't love someone like me, because of my open, rebellious, sinful lifestyle. Every excuse I offered, she had a counter offer: Jesus! On two or three occasions, I would go out to my car to leave, then she would begin to cry and say, "Please don't go until you get saved." Her tears would bring me back inside, where she would again whisper His name, and share with me Bible verses concerning forgiveness of sin and the promise of salvation.

It was nearly two in the morning when I finally told her that I had to go. This episode was surely keeping her sister's family up, and for the first time I thought about a young lady with honor and chivalry. The guys in my apartment knew that I was going to see my special friend, and I did not wish to mar her pure image by dragging home in the wee hours of the morning like an old tom cat. She held me at the door, saying again, "Please trust Jesus!"

"I will; I will. I promise you that I'll settle this when I get back to my apartment."

With that statement, I climbed into my little sports car and headed back to Starkville. The highway was nearly empty at that time of the morning, which was a good thing as my eyes were still filled with tears from such an emotional evening. I distinctly remember meeting two approaching vehicles on the way to town, immediately feeling overwhelmed by the stirring fear of what would happen to me should one of these cars come over the center line and hit me head on. My heart rate soared, holy fear paralyzed me, and I gripped the steering wheel with all my might until the cars passed on by. I was sill overwhelmed by the Spirit's convicting presence, but then another presence invaded my life, or at least another voice, I should say. When those two vehicles passed by, I seemed to hear someone say to me, "Now, now, you're alright. Everything is going to be fine. Quit worrying. Calm down. You're okay."

With those two encounters, the tears flooded my eyes again. Wiping the tears away, I felt my car leave the security of the pavement as I veered off to the right side of the road. Terrified, I jerked the car back on the highway, and thought about what those pine and hardwood trees would do to me should I hit them. And again, that voice, "Now, now, you're alright. Everything is going to be fine. Quit worrying. Calm down. You're okay." Hearing these words, I immediately began to relax. This had been quite a roller coaster of an evening for me. I realized that I had gone five days without a drink, and my emotions were shot. We sometimes didn't have enough food in our apartment, but we always had an abundance of liquor. I just need a good, stiff drink, then a cold beer, or two, out on the back porch. Such thoughts filled me with confidence, especially when I looked up and could see the streetlights of Starkville. I was almost in town. The two-lane highway was about to widen into a five-lane road, campus was only a few minutes away, and Arbor Acres and my alcohol were almost in reach. Oh man, I could nearly taste it.

Then it happened. As I approached the sign designating the city limits of Starkville, and just before the road widens to multi-lanes, my eyes were riveted on an eighteen wheeler coming out of town. My heart pounded again, my blood pressure shot up, sweat poured out on my forehead as I gripped the wheel. Then I saw it, on the trailer above the cab were large letters that said: U S MAIL. It was just a few months ago that a friend died on his way home after enjoying a few beers with the boys. He was just a few minutes from home, but he did not make the soft curve in the road and veered over into the path of a mail truck. It all happened at the sign along the road that designated the city limits of his hometown.

Now I'm meeting a mail truck at the city limits of Starkville. I could envision this rig coming over the line and demolishing me in my sports car. When the dust settled and the fuel is washed off the highway, I thought, someone will have to use a shovel to get me off the pavement and into a body bag. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs as the truck roared passed, barely able to see because of the tears that were blinding me. Then immediately, that voice, "Now, now, you're alright. Everything is going to be fine. Quit worrying. Calm down. You're okay. You need that drink that you've been thinking about. Everything will be just fine."

This time, however, it was different. Wiping the tears, trying to catch my breath and get my emotions in check, it happened. Before I could even contemplate what the voice was telling me, I felt it. I was safely in Starkville, but I sensed something else, or someone else, was in the car with me. The only way to describe is to go back in time to when I was a boy. Dad had bought my sister and me a couple of horses. Whenever I rode them, I only had one speed: wide open. Dad had taught me that when I brought one in hot, take everything off of it, then lead the horse around with a bridle and rope until it had cooled off. On many occasions, I walked a hot horse while it had it's nostrils flared, breathing in massive amounts of fresh air, and blowing out huge quantities of hot air. I could feel hot breath blowing on my neck as I made my way into Starkville. It seemed as if something, or someone, was in the back seat trying to get me, and this little car didn't even have a backseat!

I was too scared to turn around and look, so I just cried out, "Oh, please, help me, help me!" My heart pounded and the tears flowed all the way across town until I pulled into the parking lot of Arbor Acres. No one was in sight, I found a parking spot, got out as fast as possible, and refused to look back toward the rear of my car. Walking towards our apartment, all I could think about was that I've got to talk to God. Everyone was asleep when I arrived, so I quietly slipped up to my room and into my bed, heart still pounding, tears still flowing, body still shaking. The window to my room was just above my head, and a security light outside provided a soft glow to my room. Lying motionless, still under deep conviction, and thinking about all of the activities of the previous hours, I finally whispered a prayer, "Dear God, please don't let me die and go to Hell. Please, Jesus, I know that you died for me, and if you'll save me, I won't have to go to Hell. Please, Jesus, please save me. I'll do what you want me to do, I'll go where you want me to go, and I'll say what you want me to say. Please don't let me go to Hell, please save me."

As those words left my lips and approached the throne room of Heaven, God did a work of amazing grace in my life. No fireworks went off that night in my room, no flashes of lightening nor peels of thunder, and there were no visiting angels coming up and down a shining ladder thrust through that little window. Something more spectacular, however, took place. The Spirit of Christ stepped out of Heaven and into my heart, cleansing me of my sin, transforming me, and giving me new, abundant, and eternal life!

As Friday dawned, I decided to skip my eight o'clock class so that I could be waiting on my lovely friend to arrive at nine o'clock in Carpenter Hall. I remember sitting on the big concrete steps awaiting her arrival, and how I felt when I finally saw her walking across the Drill Field. Something was much different now. She was still so knock-out gorgeous, but this time my heart was filled with something other than lust. Looking at her as she got closer, I sensed the voice of God speaking to me, "Son, you're going to marry that girl." Coming up close to me, she didn't even ask if I had prayed to be saved (she later said that it was quite evident on my face). As our eyes locked, I said, "I believe God just spoke to me."

"Really?" she replied, "What did He say?"

"He said that I'm going to marry you!"

"Well, He hasn't told me that," was her less than enthusiastic reply, as we walked into the building and up to her classroom.

Thirty-five years. Thirty-five incredible years. You might be wondering: "What happened to that young lady? The one that you dreamed of spending a few nights with - what happened to her?" Well, we exchanged vows and rings the following year as we stood before a congregation of witnesses in our wedding ceremony at Friendship Baptist Church, and I've been blessed to spend thousands of night with her! When those who knew me well heard about my salvation experience, they said it would last no more than six months. They were wrong. And when word began to spread that I was planning on getting married, those same voices said it wouldn't last two years. They were wrong, as well. "Let God be true, but every man a liar!" (Romans 3:4)

These past thirty-five years have not been perfect, because we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world. And it's not been perfect because I still must renounce the demands of my Adamic flesh, take up my cross daily, and follow Jesus. I have often disappointed Tammy, Apryl, Laurie, Micah and Eli, as well as many other folks that we have known over the years. Yet through it all, God has been so good to me! Surrendering to preach His word a few years after my conversion, it has been almost like a fairy tale of activity. The places to which I have traveled, the people that I have met, and the precious opportunities that have been given to me to exalt Christ are, at times, difficult to describe. How could a boy from Duncan, Mississippi grow up to experience what I've experienced? How could a teenager who worked in the flooded rice fields of his family farm in the Delta wind up traveling to places in Africa, Europe, Asia, Central and South America, as well as all across the United States to proclaim God's word? How could a young man with his own landscaping and lawn maintenance business, along with his young family, pack up and leave behind a profitable future for the great unknown of church ministry and seminary training? And how could that same young man follow the leadership of the Lord to leave seminary, without a degree, and eventually find himself leading and conducting preaching, evangelism and missions, prayer, and church leadership conferences all over the world?

The only explanation to my life and ministry is the grace and glory of God. Thirty-five years. Thirty-five incredible years. God is so good. Amen!