Why I Believe
I don't believe in God, the death and resurrection of Christ, and the trustworthiness of Scripture because of reason. Oh, there are evidences for believing these things, evidences that I find compelling, but I did not make a decision to believe after weighing all the data and intellectually deciding to believe. That's why I know that I can never argue a person into faith: what we believe is determined by our will rather than by our intellect, even though intellect and emotions are factors.
Something happened to me, and I simply chose to believe. But once I came to faith, the faith made perfect sense to me. I suppose I was following St. Augustine's dictum without knowing it: "Crede, ut intelligas (Believe so that you may understand)."
What happened to me was my conversion. My conversion is why I still believe after all these years and after a lot of reading and listening and reflecting. It's why I still believe in spite of lots of heartaches and disappointments. Here is a bit of background.
I became a Christian on September 4, 1964. In the following years, I met and married a person who would become my closest and most trusted friend on earth, my dear wife Sandy. The Lord has given us five children and 13 grandchildren. He enabled me to graduate from college, then seminary, and later on earn a doctorate. He appointed me to serve three churches as pastor: one in South Carolina, one in Kansas, and Grace, here in Central Louisiana, where I've been since 1975.
During the summers of 1962 and 63, I lived away from my parents and worked at the South Carolina Home in Montreat, North Carolina, the conference center of the old Presbyterian Church U.S. At the beginning of the summer of 1963, Billy Graham spoke to the young people working in Montreat -- I didn't really understand what he was saying, but I was convicted about cigars and went back to my room and threw away my stash -- I had been an avid cigar smoker since the age of 12.
But I still didn't comprehend the gospel: the gospel is not about tobacco, after all; it is about what God has done for us in Christ and turning from ourselves and seeking him until we find him. My view of things didn't change that summer: I still stupidly assumed that everybody around me was a Christian -- me, too -- unless somebody belonged to another religion. I also thought that if people tried be good, they would all go to heaven. Curiously, I didn't really try to be good, but I did try to fool the adults in my life.
Raised in a teetotaler home, my father a ruling elder, my mother, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, I took my first drink at the age of 14 on an overnight, high school outing for All State Chorus, to Columbia, our state capital.
After the chaperones went to sleep, some of the girls slipped out of their motel rooms and brought vodka into our room. They were using syringes to inject it into oranges and then eating them. I asked for mine straight, took it into the bathroom, slugged it down and then watched my reaction in the mirror, Holden Caufield style -- the mirror, the place of existential angst.
So began my three year battle with booze, a battle I gladly lost.
I remain amazed that I never got caught by the adults in my life. In the ninth grade, after dropping Mama off at the elementary school where she taught, I'd pick up my friends, and we'd go buy beer at a convenience store. Since I'd passed six feet and 175 pounds before I entered my teens -- my voice changed, too -- I was the best candidate to go in and buy the stuff.
Three years of getting drunk, and I never got caught until April of 1964. Then I got caught big time. That's when our family physician and my high school Sunday school teacher, Dr. Billy Ragsdale, got involved with my parents and me.
It was the Saturday after our Junior-Senior Prom, and a couple of my friends and I had drunk a lot of Wild Turkey out at the Myrtle Beach city dump. After getting bored trying to shoot rats (literally), we went to the picture show and then to somebody's house party.
I became such a wild turkey, trying to drown myself in the ocean, that some of my friends threw me into a car and took me to the hospital. Somebody had called Dr. Ragsdale. He met us and took me home along with some of my friends.
It was Reality 101 for my parents. I was crazy drunk and covered with wet sand. I remember grabbing my pillow, biting it and ripping it to shreds. Feathers went everywhere. That's when Dr. Ragsdale grabbed my hair and banged my head against the back of the bed: "Be quiet and go to sleep, or I will give you a shot." I did. At least that's how I remember that bleary night.
I also remember waking up to go to the bathroom, looking in the mirror and seeing dried blood that had come down from my right ear onto my face -- that ear still rings. And I remember opening the bathroom door and seeing Mama and Daddy sitting in the living room. They had not gone to bed. "We're not going to fuss at you," Daddy said. "Just promise us that you'll never drink again." Of course, I promised. Then Mama told me that Dr. Ragsdale wanted to meet all of us in his office later that morning before church.
We went, and he talked to me, but what he said didn't make much sense: salvation is not earned by our efforts but from the Lord Jesus' efforts, and it is by grace alone, received through faith alone, in Christ alone. But that idea did not make a lot of sense because God was an abstract idea and not a living presence in my life.
However, it was the beginning of a major turning point for me. Dr. Ragsdale invited us to come to his home on Thursday nights for a Bible study where the seed he had planted was watered by tapes from George Manford Gutzke, a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary. Along the way I began to understand a bit better.
Months passed, and then on a Friday night, September 4, 1964, with two college students and two Air Force enlistees, I became a Christian -- it happened late at night on the top floor of the education wing of the church I was raised in, First Presbyterian Church of Myrtle Beach. I didn't simply say "the sinner's prayer" or ask Jesus into my heart -- I had done that kind of thing many times before and remained unchanged and had still bounced around where I had been for several years, between telling myself that I was an atheist and fearing that the Bible might actually be true after all.
That Friday night I sought the Lord until I found him. And find him, I did (Jeremiah 29:13). There have been many ups and downs, but Jesus has always remained the same. He has never disappointed me, though I have often disappointed myself. And I have never lost the sense of his presence.
That night I began to love the Lord Jesus and trust him for my relationship with God. When I would do wrong in the future, I would feel bad about it, but I would pray and ask God to forgive me, and I was assured that he had. As time went by, I began to see evidence that the Holy Spirit was making me more like Jesus, no matter how imperfectly or inconsistently I expressed that (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Romans 8:29).
Because of my conversion, I never looked at anything quite the same way that I had before, and that is why I still believe.
Before my conversion, I had read the Bible here and there and found some parts boring, others, interesting, even inspiring. But after my conversion, I discovered a whole new book. Never before had I connected with a book this way. Immediately after my conversion, I read the Bible as the Word of God, as his Word to me.
It wasn't long before my new found faith was challenged. I remember a question that our English Five teacher put to us as she set about to teach the Book of Job as literature: "Does anyone here believe that the Bible is infallible, the actual Word of God?" I raised my hand. No one else did.
Later I approached a fellow student privately and asked her why she had not raised her hand. She told me, "I haven't read the whole Bible through yet, so I cannot say that it is infallible." I thought a lot about her answer.
My approach was quite different: immediately following my conversion that Friday night, I simply accepted the Bible as true -- nobody told me this, but it was a package deal for me.
Perhaps I should comment further about my conversion.
It was not an emotional experience. I did not weep or laugh. I saw no vision and heard no audible voice. I felt no goose-bumps or any other sensation.
It's simply that somewhere around 10:00 o'clock that Friday night, as four young men prayed for me while I prayed, it was as if a light came on in my mind, and I knew that God loved and accepted me just the way that I was. I had begged the Lord Jesus to come inside me that night, and I didn't stop begging him, on and on, until somehow I knew that he had done what I asked.
I've had ups and downs since then, of course. I have gone through some dry periods and gotten angry with God, but I have never lost that sense of his presence from that Friday night on -- September 4th, 1964 -- I now knew God, and I accepted the Bible as his Word because . . . well, because from that point on, I simply "knew" that it was his Word. As I said earlier, I was following St. Augustine's dictum without knowing it: "Crede, ut intelligas (Believe so that you may understand)." And that confidence became the starting point in all my intellectual pursuits.
It wasn't long before my faith was challenged again. That December, the old Life Magazine put out a double Christmas issue on the Bible, and I devoured it.
The authors wrote that the Bible contradicted itself and cited a number of passages, two of which had to do with King David's numbering Israel:
"And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah" (2 Samuel 24:1).
"And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel" (1 Chronicles 21:1).
As I pondered this, a 17 year-old, new Christian with very little education, I prayed for an answer, and I got it: both Satan and the LORD were involved in David's actions -- Satan because he hated David -- the LORD because he was disciplining David for his pride, and he used Satan as a means of correcting David.
It was then that I saw for the first time something that I have seen over and over again as I have read the English Bible through well over sixty times: the Bible is a BOTH/AND book, rather than an EITHER/OR book. It was not so worked out for me back then, of course, but that's how I saw it: even when Satan comes against us with all his great craft and power, he never operates independently of God -- the God who works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11). Jesus is BOTH truly God AND truly human. The Bible is BOTH a fully human book AND fully a divine book. God is BOTH completely sovereign AND humankind is completely responsible for its actions.
The point I would make is that from the time of my conversion, I no longer picked up the Bible as its intellectual judge; I came rather so it would judge me: my motives, ambitions, desires, attitudes, and beliefs. From then on, I have never approached anything with neutrality and certainly not how I read the Bible. That's why I have never discovered any reason to reject Scripture as untrue. I had now come to know the ultimate Author, and I "knew" there would always be an answer as I studied and asked questions.
After I completed a major in philosophy, I began to come to grips with the philosophical reality that nobody ever approaches anything with neutrality. We all have a bias, a starting point. When we recognize where our biases are, we can have meaningful discussions with people with whom we might disagree. When we fail to recognize our own biases, we begin to exhibit bigotry.
Before my conversion, I was a bigot who imagined himself to be neutral; now I freely confess that I have a bias in favor of Scripture.
Some years later I wrestled with another problem in the biblical text, the three accounts of the Apostle Paul's conversion. Here are the examples from the King James Version.
"And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? . . . And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man" (Acts 9:4, 7).
"And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me" (Acts 22:9).
"And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" (Act 26:14).
The problem is with the first two accounts . . . did the men hear the voice or not? Acts 9:7 says they did; Acts 22:9 says they didn't. An outright contradiction, plain and simple, end of the matter, shut the book. Right?
Before I finished my senior year in high school, one of my friends challenged me from the perspective of the Jehovah's Witnesses and told me: "But the Greek says . . ." Of course, he didn't read Greek, and neither did I, but his challenge sent me to my pastor, Mr. Williams, a scholarly man who read both Greek and Hebrew, and he was very helpful in explaining things to me. But listening to him made me want to study Greek for myself, and so I signed up for a correspondence course and began a study that continued with many hours of college and seminary courses.
I now read through the Greek New Testament once a year, and as I have, I have learned so much. Reading the three accounts of Paul's conversion in the language in which the New Testament was first penned immediately resolves the conflict. Why?
"173. Genitive with verbs of perception. (1) The classical rule for ἀκούειν (We get the word "acoustic" from this Greek verb "to hear" RBV) is: the person whose words are heard stands in the genitive, the thing (or person: E 4: 21 αὐτὸν ἠκούσατε) about which (or whom) one hears in the accusative" (F. Blass, A. Debrunner, and R. Funk, (1960) A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), p. 95).
When we read Acts 9:7 and 22:9 in light of this rule, we see that Paul understood the words that Jesus was saying to him. But the men who were with him heard only sounds but not the actual message that Jesus gave to Paul -- with my growing deafness, I really get this.
The 1984 New International Version correctly translates the Greek text this way.
'He fell to the ground and heard a voice (accusative case) say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" . . . The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound (genitive case) but did not see anyone" (Acts 9:7).
"My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice (accusative case) of him who was speaking to me" (Acts 22:9).
"We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice (accusative case) saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads'" (Acts 26:14).
Before we leave the topic of the Greek verb "to hear" and whether the reference is to hearing ABOUT a person or thing, or hearing that person actually speak, we should look at Romans 10:14. The New American Standard Bible reflects Paul's actual words in his second question: "How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?"
Notice that they render the text as, "How will they believe in Him WHOM they have not heard?" That's because St. Paul used the genitive case for his second question.
Paul is not asking how people will believe in a person ABOUT whom they have not heard -- of course, people need to hear about Jesus and understand the gist of the gospel in order to believe. But Paul is saying more than this; he is asking how people can ever come to believe in a person who has not spoken to them.
There is all the difference in the world between hearing another human being explain the gospel, on the one hand, and hearing the Lord Jesus himself speak through that merely human person's words in the winsome power of the Holy Spirit. Horatius Bonar put it this way in his lovely hymn:
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
On that night over fifty years ago, I, too, heard the voice of Jesus say, "Come unto me and rest." I did not hear him vibrating my tympanic membranes with an audible voice. But I heard him, nonetheless, in the deepest place in my mind, and I sought him until I found him because he sought me first (1 John 4:19; Acts 13:48). That has made all the difference.
In conclusion, I have heard God speak the gospel to me in the text of Scripture again and again, and in all my years of careful study, I have never found one reason to reject the Bible as the living Word of God through which he still speaks by his Holy Spirit. I have seen the amazing fulfillment of the Bible's prophecies and how God still changes people and sets them free as they respond to the good news. And as I have grown in my trust in his promises, I have seen his Word confirmed time and again in wonderful answers to prayer. I have shared some of those things before, but God willing, I will share more again. But this is why I believe.
CHOOSING MY STARTING POINT
Up to this point, I have made clear that my faith is not the result of my objectively analyzing brute facts and intellectually coming to the conclusion that God exists or that the Bible is true. Faith is not rooted in the intellect or in the emotions; it is an act of the will -- that is true of everyone's faith, whether that faith is in Marxism, Secularism, Buddhism, or what have you. All of us have a basic set of assumptions that help form the lens through which we interpret data.
On the night of my conversion over 50 years ago, I simply chose to believe. As I wrote earlier: 'Something happened to me, and I simply chose to believe. But once I came to faith, the faith made perfect sense to me. I suppose I was following St. Augustine's dictum without knowing it: "Crede, ut intelligas (Believe so that you may understand)."'
And having chosen to believe, I began to see compelling evidence that the Bible's picture of reality is objectively verifiable to people who have chosen to believe. What about people who have not chosen to believe, people like me before that Friday night, September the 4th, 1964?
I would have said back then that I saw no evidence that God is both God and good. That is, that he is both sovereign and also benevolent. That's why at times I told myself I was an atheist.
THE ROOT OF ATHEISM: PROVIDENCE NOT CREATION
The root of atheism is not a response to God's act of creation; it is to his work of providence.
Think about it: only people who deliberately suppress what they perceive in the world around them could ever believe that the universe exists without a creator (Romans 1:18-23). Things don't improve without outside help; they run down and spin into chaos.
However, when we look at the world around us and the terrible tragedies that mark so many people's lives, don't questions arise in our hearts? Is God good? Is he fair? How could he allow this if he were benevolent. One thinks of the naive innocence of Robert Browning's Pippa Passes:
"God's in His heaven --
When I stand beside an open grave to do the committal service of somebody's child, I come to grips with the fact that all is NOT right with the world!
The Bible teaches us that though God created the world, the world that we now experience is not identical to the world God made. Death, chaos, and emptiness have been visited on it (1 Corinthians 15:21-26), and trouble characterizes the experience of all sentient creatures:
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us . . . .. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:18-23)
You and I have known our share of groaning, and so has everybody else, including celebrities, and the rich and powerful. Movie stars and popular singers commit suicide alongside the people who have been publicly humiliated and lost everything -- maybe even more frequently than the poorest of the poor.
This morning I read the story of a man who stopped believing:
"I've been a deep believer my whole life. 18 years as a Southern Baptist. More than 40 years as a mainline Protestant. I'm an ordained pastor. But it's just stopped making sense to me . . . every time you say that there's a purpose behind one person's success, you invalidate billions of people. You say there is a purpose to their suffering. And that's just cruel" (Humans of New York).
I understand his anger. When I returned from overseas in late August of 1966, I spent the night on a bench in JFK International waiting for my connecting flight the next morning. As I am prone to do, I struck up a conversation with the person on the opposite bench (Matthew 4:19). She had returned from south central Asia, and she became angry when I shared my faith with her. She described the terrible suffering she had seen, the poverty, the disease, the crime. "What kind of God permits that?" she asked.
I was struck by her question: it wasn't that she had intellectual doubt about the existence of a higher power; it was that she hated him because of all the pain that she had seen people experience. Her experience and thinking is far more common than some people imagine. As I say, my experience of God before September 4, 1964, was pretty much along those lines but without the vitriol of global experience.
WHY I FINALLY TURNED MY BACK ON ATHEISTIC THOUGHTS
My experience since then has been profoundly different. The first thing is that I experienced profound change inside myself, something I had tried to bring about by my own efforts and failed at before.
I remember several years before my conversion when I went back to the kitchen after midnight, being careful not to wake up my parents. I used a pair of pliers to remove a small brass cross off of a zippered Bible that my mother had given me. I turned on a burner on their gas stove and held that cross with the pliers until it was glowing hot. Then I pressed it into my skin on top of my sternum. "Now I will be the kind of person I want to be," I thought. But nothing happened, and the only change that I experienced was a small cross shaped scar that is still visible underneath my gray chest hair.
But from September 4, 1964 on, I was a different person, and I saw God's power at work changing other people, too. The conversions of hundreds of people whom I have personally known is a profound evidence to which I would point as evidence for the faith. But some people would simply dismiss these changes as some kind of mental snapping: people believe what they choose to believe.
SEEING THE HAND OF GOD DEMONSTRATED REGULARLY
Beyond the profound miracle of what the Bible calls the new birth, I have seen a lot of very dramatic answers to prayer, and I would like to share some of those with you. As I was exposed to various philosophical systems and their theological counterparts, I adopted the idea that the fundamental purpose of prayer was to change us rather than to change our life's circumstances: "Prayer asks God to give us the grace to cope with circumstances, not to change them."
That is sort of what I believed; it characterized how I prayed. Some people would call that idea "Reformed Deism," and I think that is not an unfitting label. I didn't expect to see concrete evidence of God's intervention in the world around me, and I got what I expected: not much.
It was after I had been at my third Presbyterian congregation for a few years that I began to reject the idea that we should not pray for God to change circumstances. That change came about as I studied the Bible more carefully and critically, and it was reinforced by things I encountered.
As I studied the Bible more carefully, I came to understand that it was more than a catalogue of extinct species in a museum of natural history -- that it was more like a field guide to help us live in the modern world with the same expectations that believers had almost two thousand years ago and with the same warnings and dangers.
ENCOUNTERING EVIL SUPERNATURAL PERSONS
Back in the fall of 1977, an older woman in my congregation sought my help regarding her obsessive ideation of suicide; she had attempted to take her own life some years before and had been hospitalized for it. At some point in our conversation, I asked her when she first began thinking about taking her own life.
I'll never forget her answer: "It was right after my brother's death. He had taken his own life, and I was at the funeral home standing beside his coffin. I laid my hand on his chest and kept thinking about how much I missed him. I said, 'If only I could take something of him away with me.' Shortly after that I became obsessed with suicidal thoughts."
In trying to minister God's love to this woman, I encountered behavior that caused me to realize that I was out of my league, and so I sought outside help. Eventually, one of our elders, one of her relatives, and I took her to a nearby pastor who had experience in dealing with such matters. That night I witnessed things that I had never seen or heard before, but the woman got relief, relief that lasted until the day that she went to be with the Lord Jesus a couple of decades later.
From time to time after that, I would encounter people with problems that seemed to defy a completely naturalistic explanation. One of the most striking of these involved a young woman who was struggling with sexual problems that had caused her trouble. I had counseled her without a lot of success. Months later as she was in my office, she could not speak. After praying for her, I ended the session, and she left. However, within a few minutes she returned, grabbed my desktop fountain pen and scrawled H E L P. She pressed the pen so hard that she bent the point back and destroyed the pen.
Not knowing what to do, I left her in my office and went into the sanctuary to pray for wisdom. I thought about taking her to a local, private mental hospital where she could be treated for her hysterical behavior. But as I prayed, several people's names came to mind, and I decided to call them. Within less than an hour, everyone arrived: two elders were involved and a married couple who were friends with the woman.
As soon as we began to pray in earnest for her, she began to growl at us and foam at the mouth. Then she spoke in a low guttural voice, "I'll kill you." But we continued to pray and read Scripture out loud. Then the woman threw herself on the floor and began to bang her head very, very hard.
My office had only a thin, unpadded commercial carpet over concrete, and I was worried that she was going to injure herself seriously, so I pinned her to the floor, pressing her head down so that she couldn't bang it anymore, and it took everybody to restrain her. After a time she ceased to struggle, and we released her. We continued to pray over her for several hours and finally there came a break-through.
When she came out of this state, she was in her right mind and able to talk. As we continued to talk and pray with her, her story unfolded. When she was in early adolescence, a relative had raped her, and she had endured the fear that she was pregnant by him. She wasn't, but she vividly remembered standing naked in front of a mirror pounding on her abdomen, trying to kill the baby that she thought was there. (I was able later to corroborate her story.)
When we finished that evening, she was a different person. She got immediate relief and was never troubled by such things again. Gone, too, was the pull to the behavior that had brought such trouble and unhappiness on her. In time she married and became very involved in our church. She is still living a godly life today, decades later.
These incidents are not the only times that I have encountered situations that I believe were more than simply the natural struggle with a person's sinful nature. What does one do with such things? They don't absolutely match everything recorded in the gospels. These people weren't running around naked in graveyards, slashing themselves with rocks, breaking their chains and wailing at passers-by (Matthew 8:28--34; Mark 5:1-13; Luke 8:26-33). Avoiding the extremes, we must beware of an anti-supernatural bias that leaves people defenseless against these things.
Back in the spring of 1982, I began to see God physically heal people, sometimes literally in seconds.
One evening after our mid-week service, a woman who had been diagnosed with degenerated disks and was awaiting surgery as the only solution, was instantly healed as a group of elders laid hands on her. That was over 34 years ago, and she is still healthy and free from pain today.
Another time, God healed a woman of chronic, debilitating neck pain that she had in spite of several unsuccessful surgeries. A member of our congregation brought her for prayer. As another elder and I prayed for her, I was impressed that God wanted to say something to her -- I had never met her before -- and I spoke:
"I do not know whether or not God is going to heal your neck. But you have great bitterness in your heart. In a moment the power of the Holy Spirit is going to come in this room, and God is going to give you the ability to forgive the person who has hurt you so deeply."
As soon as the words came out of my mouth, the woman began to weep and wail. She wept so convulsively that tears and mucous ran down her face and dripped on the floor. When she stopped crying, she looked up and said, "My neck doesn't hurt!"
She was healed -- literally, actually, permanently. She also forgave her mother. What I did not know when I spoke those words to her was that her mother had forced her into a terrible, traumatic situation that had left her wounded for years. But that afternoon she was released in a moment of time in front of her friend and one of our elders. This woman, too, is still healthy today.
People have been diagnosed with cancer and gone back for more tests only to discover that there was no tumor. Of course, I still perform funerals and visit people in the hospital, too. The gospels are full of healing miracles, and yet: Jesus "could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief" (Mark 6:5-6).
We have also witnessed God enabling people to conceive after all human efforts have been exhausted: on one occasion, a woman gave birth nine months after our elders anointed the couple with oil. Most did not give birth nine months later; sometimes it was a year later. But we have had almost a dozen such pregnancies in our congregation.
AMAZING FINANCIAL RESCUES
Over the years, I have made it my practice never to ask people for money and not to tell them of a personal financial need -- I figured that God was able to do for me what he did for George Müller of Bristol. So time and time again, I have prayed for money, and God has sent it to me.
A couple of decades ago, my transmission went out in our only vehicle; it was going to cost $900, and I simply did not have the money. I told no one about it but cried out to God on my knees.
Several days later, I found an envelope that had been pushed under my door. Inside were nine, one hundred dollar bills. I certainly praised the Lord, but I didn't understand just how special this gift was at the time. When I received the anonymous gift, I had assumed that someone had learned about my transmission from the mechanic and had chosen to bless me in this way. However, some years later a young man came to see me. He was a Southern Baptist from another parish (county) and hardly knew me. He asked me, "Several years ago did you find an envelope with nine, one hundred dollar bills in it?"
"Yes," I replied. Then he told me that he had been praying, and the Lord had told him to go to Alexandria and give this amount of money to me anonymously. Needless to say, I was stunned at such an example of God's kindness in one of his providentia extraordinaria.
On September 15, 1996, as I put a check in the morning offering for $110, God quickened me with what had happened to Isaac in Genesis 26:12. By faith -- I had never been given the faith to pray this way before -- I prayed for a hundredfold blessing -- we were really hurting financially at the time. I continued to press this home to my heavenly Father in prayer for weeks on end, and then, on November 16, 1996, I received 200 shares of Wachovia Bank stock as a gift out of the blue. I got on the Internet and discovered that the stock had closed at $55.00 per share. Do the math: it comes out to the penny.
SOME EVIDENCE FOR YOU
Because these financial blessings are so dramatic, I have had people call them into question -- not the people who know me really well, but people outside, particularly on the Internet. There is no independent way to verify the gift of the nine, one hundred dollar bills. But the gift of stock is verifiable, and one person even did the research in the early spring of 2013 and thought I was making this up, because it did not match the Internet data for Wachovia Bank for that date.
I confess that was flabbergasted when I followed his link, but I was sure of what I had read back then and was determined to check things out at our local library, using their microfilm to confirm the historical datum.
If you click on this link, you can see the photograph of Saturday, November 16, 1996, page B-9 of The Alexandria Daily Town Talk. It contains the closing prices for stocks. If you look closely at the second section below, you can see that the closing price for Wachovia was $55 a share. A second photograph shows this blown up more clearly.
After verifying that Wachovia Bank had indeed closed at $55 a share the weekend that I received the 200 shares of stock, I discovered that the problem with the Internet information was that Wachovia Bank had become insolvent roughly a decade later and was purchased by Wells Fargo, who gave averages rather than specific closing figures for these specific dates. I found that amazing as well, because it appeared that Satan was attempting to rob God of the glory for this wonderful answer to prayer. I almost shouted out loud in the Rapides Parish Library when I found the datum for that date, and I thanked their staff profusely for helping me verify one more example of God’s Amazing Grace. I have also included the relevant portion from our federal Income Tax return for the year when I sold the 200 shares.
IMPACT ON OUR CHILDREN
I could go on and on with such examples of how God has answered our prayers. The thing that undergirded our children's faith as they left home to study wasn't the theology that they had learned, nor the compelling Christian apologetics -- though we did strive to teach them what we believed and why we believed it -- it was that they had grown up in a home where they had seen their father and mother regularly getting themselves into terrible difficulties, been present when their parents cast themselves on God's mercy and pleaded his promises by grace alone, through faith alone, and then seen God's often dramatic answers to prayer. God has always provided for us in amazing ways.
These are some to the things that my children witnessed personally, sometimes individually.
* On March 26, 1999, I received an envelope in the mail containing $15,000.00; I had been asking the Lord for $22,000.00 since January.
* In August 1999, as I continued to pray for the money that I needed, knowing that the deadline for dealing with _____'s car was coming at the end of September, I began to beg God for $25,000.00 more.
* On October 11, 1999, I learned of over $990.00 in traffic fines on ______'s car in the city of ____. This was in addition to the state fines. I intensified my prayer for the $25,000.00 and solicited the prayers of ____ and _____ for the solution to the problem of _____'s car (never mentioning that cash was needed).
* On October 12, 1999, our children all joined us to be Sandy's parents. I pulled out $1,000.00 from our Y2K reserve cash and fixed part of the problem and committed to paying off ____.
* That same day, October 12, 1999, I received a gift of $25,000.00 from ________.
* The next day, October 13, 1999, in view of the outstanding traffic fines in ____, I informed ____ that __ could not drive the car back, even though I had paid it off that morning with a wire transfer to ___ for $5,806.97. After the Oasis Board meeting at Stalnaker's Restaurant, I again apologized for having to keep the car, and ___ told me, "It's okay, Dad, I've given it to the Lord."
* The next day, October 14, 1999, _____'s grandfather, Andy Price, bought a new car and gave _____ his 1992 Ford Crown Victoria. Our ____ was able to return to ____ in ___ own car.
A MORE RECENT EXAMPLE
On the morning of September 8, 2014, with a lot of things going on in the lives of the people we love, I told Sandy that I didn't see any way out other than to go borrow money from the bank. Her response to me was to say that we should pray more about the situation and solution first. After I left, she began to pray earnestly and as she did, she became impressed that God wanted her to ask him for $10,000.
Later that day when I arrived at work, I was handed an envelope that simply said, "Please deliver to Bob and Sandy." There was no indication from where it had come, and we still have no idea whether a supernatural angel brought it or a human angel whom God impressed to do this. When I opened it, it contained one hundred, one hundred dollar bills, exactly what Sandy had asked for: $10,000. "You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." (James 4:2-3)
This is not financial, but it really drove home the truth to one of our children that God can do anything we ask according to his will.
* On May 24, 2000, _____'s life was spared as he and his friend ____ rescued three women from drowning in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mazatlan. He had telephoned me from the beach, begging me to pray for one of the women, because it appeared that she had died. Several hours later, he called back to tell me that she had revived.
THAT POOR MAN'S BITTERNESS
Reflecting on what that poor former pastor wrote, I think that there is some truth to what he says, "Every time you say that there's a purpose behind one person's success, you invalidate billions of people."
I don't know why God has been so gracious to me -- why he gave me a new nature instead of leaving me with an inherited set of beliefs that would never sustain me when I faced the storms of life. I don't know why I was truly converted and changed. I don't know why he gave me the gift of faith to see his promises so dramatically fulfilled in the needs of the people around me, but he did.
It isn't that I never suffer; I do. The people in our congregation have walked with us through terrible heartbreak, from my only sibling's sudden death in 1985 to my beloved wife's having gone into a coma after having been run over by a log truck in 1988. In some ways, 2014 has been the hardest year of my whole life, and Sandy and I have wept many tears of anguish, and the period from June 2015 through mid-January 2016 was the most difficult of my whole Christian life. But God is still hearing our prayers and giving answers.
As I interact with people, I think that my experiences are unusual. I wonder if the American church has processed millions of people through decisions that have no lasting impact on them, as it has adopted an American business model as the standard of success.
People say prayers and are baptized, but so many people fail to seek the Lord until they find him. I wonder about that poor man about whom I read earlier today. It is not at all unusual for people to find themselves in the ministry without ever having experienced the supernatural power of God.
So . . . do these dramatic answers to prayer I have shared invalidate billions of people? Sic et non. God does not subject himself to the Democratic Ideal. No one can hold him accountable.
Why did he arrest a silly boy and change the whole course of his life in a single night? He could have passed me by. Why does he so dramatically still answer our prayers?
All I can say in response is to invite you to leave those billions and become part of something truly wonderful. God has never turned anyone away who sought him until he found him. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
If I can help you, please contact me.