I have been a Christian for about 45 years. I say, about, because I don't know when I believed, but from the start, the Lord took my profession of faith seriously and graciously though I was not a member of a real church. I prayed and sort of read the Bible and Jesus certainly was kind to me. He heard and answered my prayers, and when my mother died in 1974 he kindly comforted me. My brothers and sisters in Christ loved me, and so did dear Mrs. Campbell and her family, though I do know I was a whiny baby Christian for years! Finally, I did join a church, 1st Presbyterian Church in Babylon, New York, on Long Island. The pastor's name, interestingly, was James Noel SPURGEON! No relation to Charles, though. And Mrs C, as we called her and Pastor Spurgeon took seriously what I considered to me to be a call to the ministry, and I went to Westminster Theological Seminary (the pastor said it was the only one he would recommend). So I went and began to grow intellectually and spiritually and began to take Christ more seriously. But I don't think I had a fully formed faith because I was still too immature, as I look back now. But such growth as I enjoyed also came with a fuller understanding of Christ and the Holy Spirit and the Father. I became a minister in 1988, ordained and installed on October 30, 1988 and served 4 years as pastor of Winner Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Winner, SD. 5 years later I was installed as pastor of Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church where I served for 22 3/4 years.
Now, there in Middletown I saw God more personally, and I grew in many ways to trust him and understand his Word, in many ways more fully than ever before. God used me to comfort the needy and grieving, to instruct his people, and even graciously saved some people through the means of his Word. Was I perfect? Not at all, but any true minister that I have admired had said the same, though I never saw their flaws. But I was happier than ever before in my life.
And yet, looking back now, I still never quite saw Christ as a truly real person in my life. Oh, yes I trusted him for salvation and loved him as far as I know the best I could. He heard my prayers and taught me from his Word, but... something was off. I believe I was a Christian, even now, but so awfully immature! My dear Livy (now 35 years my bride) was blessed to give birth to John and Isaac, whom God graciously brought to himself in his Covenant faithfulness. I grew in the grace and knowledge of Christ those years...until, July 30 of 2016 I agreed to resign so that Calvary Church and I could have a fresh start. I believe I was burnt out from the work and several sad situations I could not remedy and Christ chose not to remedy in his wisdom.
Now I became angry and bitter.I did not understand it all. I was mad at the Lord. I was unemployed and by March's end off of the severance package the church graciously gave me. I started work with Livy as a catering temp in May for $12 an hour but I was still angry and bitter. I had tried to seek a church, and the only church that allowed me to candidate (in August 2016) determined to call someone else. So there I was angry and bitter at God and life and about no other church even taking a second look at me when I applied. God and his love seemed less real and while I continued to read his Word and pray each day, by June 3 2017 I was effectively at a dead end spiritually and emotionally. Christ was real but not really. But he was not through with me.
On June 4, 2017, Christ took my heart in his hands and applied pressure so that I had a heart attack. Then he took me to the brink of death which was when Dr. Rice, my cardiologist, was used by Christ to save my life by placing 3 stents in my Right Coronary artery. I began to live again and recover over the summer, which included having single bypass surgery by a wonderfully skilled surgeon, Dr. Jaik. During that summer, I believe, I began to read the Bible with different eyes and thoughts. Christ began to re-introduce himself to me through Genesis to Esther. It was as though he unstopped my ears and took dark glasses off my eyes as I saw myself in some of the actors in redemptive history. But in Job I heard my complaints in the hero's ears and in the Lord's replies I heard his lovely stern voice reminding me who is God and who I am. Now God was becoming more real to me. But he was not yet done.
I was then treated to 150 consecutive days of learning from the Psalms that God is my friend, my defender, my loyal Master and Covenant King. I was shown how he never abandons his people, how he exercises all his power for my good and how he will never hurt me but will discipline me for my good and advancement. Oh Joy! Christ was also re-introduced to me as a fellow traveler, having traveled my path first and he was taking my hand and becoming my teacher. AND I WAS FINALLY HEARING THE VOICE OF CHRIST AS I HAD NEVER HEARD IT BEFORE!
I was again given the privilege, several times, to preach in churches for pastors who needed a substitute. I was encouraged by the hearers, but more than that, I was encouraged by the messages the Lord enabled me to prepare. Even the ones I did poor preparation on (and I did not notice it, faithful Livy did! and she told me). And as I began Proverbs in my daily reading I began to learn true wisdom. In Ecclesiastes I learned the shortness and weariness of life without God. And in Song of Solomon I learned more of the love relationship I have with Jesus. And now in Isaiah I am learning how important it is that I take God at his Word seriously and not underestimate his justice. In other words, 45 years into my life with Christ, I finally know Jesus personally as I never dreamed to.
And here is the capstone of it all: about a month ago I was stopped in my tracks by a thought that I had to do something, and it was this: I paused and I thanked the Lord for taking me out of the ministry on July 30 2016. Seriously! Because he did the right thing for me. He is my rock and there is no wrong in him, and all his works are kind. If he had not done that I would have missed his gracious personal teaching since June 4th, 2016. He does all things well.
So what is the end of all of this? What do I have to say to you, gentle reader? If you are one who is a believer and disciple of Jesus, I say this quite seriously to you: (I quote from a sermon freshly repaired) I quote from a sermon freshly prepared:
Sometimes I think we do not think of Jesus as a real person who is with us but rather as hero figure in some book. We could be more wrong! So I want you, if that is true of you, to think of Jesus as a real person who is, truly, your best friend in the Universe! Speak to Jesus as you would to any friend, though he is not just any friend. Learn his names, for they tell you who he is/what he really means to you. Pray to him as your Teacher, Messiah, prophet who is also the Son of God who is your King, and your sure guide to heaven. Tell him your troubles and your concerns and see if he does not deal with them all and defend, protect and, yes, teach you. If you do that each day, you will find your faith in Him understanding of Scripture growing by leaps and bounds.
Do you know this Jesus? Has he reconciled you to God by his death on the Cross? Do you want to know him now? Then do not remain in your sin. Give yourself to him now in faith, ask him to be your Saviour, to cleanse you of your sin and teach you how to live, and what he can make of you. Trust him, trust him now. If you do, life may get hard but so long as you trust him as your Teacher, Saviour, Prophet and King, He will never disappoint you. What love he has for you and for me! Hallelujah, what a Saviour he is.