PART ONE – Darkness to Light (cont.)
The Sword of the Lord was a publication that stirred up considerable controversy among the evangelicals in the early seventies. John R. Rice was bombastic, lambasting evangelicals. I recall them saying he was a brother, but not very loving or Christlike. I didn’t know what to make of Mr. Rice. Though he stood out as different among evangelicals, I was not drawn to his teaching.
The issue was never a matter of doctrine to me so much as spirit and life. My guidelines for choosing my teachers seemed different than those of most others. I was led more by the strings of the heart than by the chains of the head or denominational partisanship, though I didn’t know it.
Members of the Alliance Church once talked of how a visiting preacher confronted a congregation. He asked, “How many people here hate God?” No hands went up. “How many people are on absolute fire for God, willing to do anything for Him?” Very few, if any, hands went up. Finally, he asked, “How many are somewhere in between?” There was a great show of hands. He then had them open their Bibles to the following passage:
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16 MKJV).
The fellow telling the story (himself an ordained preacher) laughed, saying, “Good thing he wasn’t the pastor, because he wouldn’t have been around long after that day. He had nothing to lose.”
I knew that the traveling minister exposed the people. I also knew that most people in the Alliance congregation I attended would classify themselves as somewhere between passionate for Christ and dead against Him, which would mean lukewarm.
But I had some subconscious questions (which I didn’t realize were there until years later): “Is it not the preacher’s responsibility to tell the people the naked truth about their spiritual state? Why should he be afraid to speak reality? Is it up to the people to decide what their pastor says?” Even then, in my spiritual infancy, I knew the answers to those questions.
It could be objected that those on fire for God would not want to be so forward about it and wouldn’t raise their hands. To that, I have three things to say:
One, they wouldn’t admit to being lukewarm, which lukewarmness is abomination to the Lord.
Two, there was a great show of hands openly admitting to lukewarmness.
Three, Jesus said, “I delight to do Your will,” and, “I have meat to eat you know not of,” and, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened until it is accomplished!” and, “I always do those things which please Him,” and, “The zeal of Your house has eaten Me up.” He said many other such things, not reticent to openly declare His love and zeal for the Father. He was zealous for the will of God and made no apology for it. As He is, so should we be.
The First Commandment states, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Can I deny loving Him, while doing so with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength?
Of course, there will always be those who declare themselves zealous for God when they aren’t really. And there may be some who are fully devoted to God, yet may not feel free in spirit to raise their hand in such circumstances or at certain times. The sons of God are led by the Spirit of God and not by men.
In the Alliance Church, I was told of the rapture, an event wherein the Lord would physically appear in the sky without warning and take all those who believed to Heaven, leaving everyone else behind to suffer the great tribulation coming upon the earth.
This doctrine perplexed me. One day, as we worked on the new church structure the Alliance people were building, I asked Pastor Ernest Regier and Abe Friesen about it. To me, it was quite enigmatic and confusing. Some believed Jesus would come before the tribulation, some during, some after, but in all cases, He would come in physical form, taking some and leaving many.
“Is this doctrine true?” I asked. Abe replied, “It is a matter of faith.” Ernest said nothing that I can recall.
I didn’t know what to believe, but I didn’t have confidence that I would be one the Lord would take if He did come that way. It concerned me, especially in light of the dream I had, wherein He came and I was rejected. The rapture doctrine was a torment to me until God truly “raptured” me. Then I knew I was His (I knew I was Yours, Lord!). More on this later.
I decided I would go to Bible school. My decision was, I think, partially a result of experiencing great deliverance and excitement of life in Christ, after a lifetime of slavery to sin, fear, failure, loss, and despair. I knew this change had been due to knowledge of God and the Scriptures, and if the Bible could make such a difference in my life, I wanted to know it as well as I could. I wanted to be equipped to share with my family, friends, and others effectively, so that they could also enter into the life of peace and joy, notwithstanding the conflicts and new challenges.
Something else perhaps propelling me in the direction of Bible school was that I continually heard a still, small voice within, indicating to me to keep going, that I was not “there” yet. It was not in words so much as essence. Though I could not deny the wonderful change that had taken place in me, I still felt that somehow I was falling short of God’s will. Whenever I confided this dilemma to the pastors and others, they advised me that it was Satan trying to cause me to doubt my salvation. Nevertheless, try as I might to believe and to console myself, I could not escape that voice.
When first beginning my search for a Bible school, I was perplexed about which one to choose of so many available. Though Pastor Regier had graduated from CBC (Canadian Bible College), he was quite reticent for some reason to recommend it. One day, Art Bunce, a Southern Baptist preacher from the U.S., was at our sales lot, looking for a mobile home for himself and his wife, Peggy. He informed me of a fledgling Southern Baptist Bible school, the Christian Training Center in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, only ninety miles away.
I favored the idea of going to a fledgling school, notwithstanding disadvantages. Art contacted Jack Connor, the Southern Baptist minister in Prince Albert, who came to see me. He was handsome and silver-haired, though not aged. I had a hesitation about him. He seemed quite proud, formal, starchy, and presuming to be superior in character. He had the peculiar habit of holding his right elbow to his body when shaking hands, apparently coercing the other person to come to him, and gazing in his or her eyes as though he was a discerning judge of character.
Jack and I visited and he suggested I talk to the now famous Henry Blackaby, pastor of the Faith Baptist Church in Saskatoon (he was not famous then).
On to Saskatoon to see Henry. He was at the church – a small, old building that was in need of complete renovations. When I walked up to his open office door, there were a few men gathered with him, but I was invited in. I immediately sensed a formal atmosphere, and my inclination was to turn around and make a prompt retreat back to Prince Albert. Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t heed my instincts.
My first impression of Henry was that he was proud and stuffy, though showing himself buoyantly friendly. He seemed like a public relations man or a lobbying businessman. I had similar hesitations about him as with Jack. I felt like a fish out of water. Still, I proceeded to state my purpose and considerations. We visited, Henry sold me, and I soon began to make arrangements to attend the Christian Training Center.
Tim and I witnessed to several people who came shopping for a mobile home, taking every opportunity we could. Indeed, we sought to witness to any with whom we had business and social dealings. Jack Connor was seated in the office on one such occasion. Tim and I were leading a shy man and his young son through the Campus Crusade for Christ “Four Spiritual Laws” to a decision for Christ.
When they were fairly compelled to confess themselves sinners and Jesus Christ as their Savior, we closed with them in prayer, gave them some literature, told them to read the Bible, and sent them on their way.
Somehow we were aware that the man’s wife was an atheist and would not take lightly what we had done (I think he told us). We also knew that if there was any opportunity for a home sale, it was gone, and we did not hear from them again (not that one hears from most walk-in traffic after the first visit anyway).
I later asked Jack if he had any thoughts on what he witnessed. “It seemed like a stillbirth to me,” he replied. He was honest and straightforward about it, which was generally the way I saw Jack.
He didn’t explain, I didn’t understand, and I didn’t dare ask what he meant. Many years later, I look back and see that whether he had an accurate analogy of what happened or not, the results were pretty much in agreement. We used moral compulsion with predatory personalities to do “good,” and only served to offend people, spiritually and emotionally. We also did the Lord and His Name no honor, though we thought otherwise.
During that year, through Tim Friesen’s brother Gerald and his girlfriend Cynthia, I met and dated Marilyn Paul, a young Salvation Army woman, daughter of Ralph Paul, a security officer at the Prince Albert Penitentiary. I grew to love her and possibly would have married her if not for the fact that her parents wanted me to be in the Salvation Army ministry with Marilyn.
It was only a few months after meeting Marilyn that I was attending the Christian Training Center and Henry was persuading me to go to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. It would take seven or more years to complete (I had to acquire a university degree first).
Marilyn’s parents argued that she and I could become ministers together in two years with the Salvation Army, and the training would take place in eastern Canada rather than in the southern States.
It was apparent to me that Marilyn was not prepared to marry me otherwise, abiding by her parents’ wishes, which was only right for her to do. She also could not fathom my taking all those years in school, waiting that long – waiting for what, I don’t know, because I assumed we could be married while attending school. Frankly, I also had a hard time with the thought of seven years of study, and their alternative looked so nice and easy, but I couldn’t accept it.
In discussing my quandary with Henry, his main objection to the Salvation Army was a doctrinal one – he disagreed with the Arminian theology, namely that one could lose one’s salvation, as opposed to the Calvinistic doctrine of eternal security – once saved, always saved.
He also naturally disagreed with the Salvation Army’s position on water baptism. While Baptists place such importance on water baptism that they should name themselves after this simple external rite, the Salvation Army did not believe water baptism to be necessary. Furthermore, the Army believed the uniform they wore was a suitable substitute for water baptism as a public Christian testimony. Henry did not think much of that, and frankly, neither did I; while I saw water baptism commanded in Scripture, there wasn’t a snitch of instruction on uniforms.
I was a bit confused, however. In retrospect, I unconsciously felt these doctrines weren’t really the issue, but I didn’t know what was. What to choose – Marilyn, a pretty woman, and the down home, free and easy, street appeal Salvation Army, or the sophisticated, scholarly, “superior” Southern Baptist route? SA or SB?
For the time being, I remained at the school with the Southern Baptists. The day would come when I would see the fallacy of any kind of formal institutional education as preparation for a true ministry of God. I would discover by revelation and Scripture that God just does not work that way.
While Marilyn and I dated, we petted in the car and at her door. One evening, while house-sitting for some friends, we became very physically involved, not that we had direct sex or undressed, but it was close, because we both experienced orgasm. I was alarmed and convicted of sin. I asked Marilyn to kneel with me at the couch, repent, confess, and pray the Lord’s forgiveness. I was crying.
The whole incident didn’t seem to bother her that much, though she seemed perplexed at my state. I think she held me in contempt to some degree, wondering what all the fuss was about. Perhaps she was convicted as well, but she didn’t seem very agreeable with my perspective on things.
I had no right to do what I did with Marilyn. Those naming Christ as Lord have no right to do such things. Those who fondle outside of marriage fornicate. Those who cuddle and caress outside of marriage are calling for strokes of correction. We are to keep our vessels pure and ourselves from all temptations, not expose ourselves to them or indulge in them. Prenuptial petting is playing with fire.
In October of 1973, I had begun Bible school with the Southern Baptists in Saskatoon (more on that later), while Marilyn was training in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to be a registered nurse. She and I corresponded, and we got nowhere near an agreement regarding my career in ministry.
The situation also bothered me from another perspective – I thought the woman should follow the man, not the other way around. However, shouldn’t the parents decide who should be their daughter’s husband? It would not be right to marry a woman against her parent’s will. According to what I read in Scripture and what I now understand from the Lord by revelation, it would be thievery and trespass to take someone’s daughter, unless the parent was manifestly contrary to God. Marilyn was obeying her parents, and her parents didn’t consent to her marriage outside the Salvation Army.
And for all I knew at the time, it could have been appropriate to follow Marilyn – the Pauls could have been right on their doctrinal and denominational position. The main thing was that we were not in agreement, right or wrong.
“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3 KJV)
I think the primary difference I was seeing in the two choices before me was that the Pauls, parents and daughter, seemed lackadaisical in faith. They didn’t seem to be taking God seriously, whereas Henry seemed intensely interested in God and preaching, though he also could be light in certain ways, which disturbed me. Still, above all the searching and quandary I was in, I see that God was in full control, directing as always.
Because the school was only 90 miles away, I thought I might try to remain in Prince Albert, consolidate my classes into two days (there was flexibility), drive to Saskatoon, stay the night, take all the classes, return to Prince Albert, and do my homework at the office and at home for the next five days. I could continue to work for Homes Canada, strictly on commissions, in order to pay my way. For the two days gone, I could leave the office in Tim Friesen’s hands, trusting him to help me.
I presented my thoughts by phone to co-owner Bob Vail, who didn’t consent to my idea, but neither did he discuss it with me. Suddenly and without warning, Terry Johnston (Bob’s partner) arrived with a new manager, Gary Stovin of Esterhazy, to replace me immediately. Had they said they were not in agreement with my plans, I have no doubt we could have come to an amicable arrangement, even if it meant my leaving altogether. Instead, they shocked me with instant dismissal, treating me as entirely untrustworthy. Furthermore, they did not pay me the employee benefits due.
The year before, Bob and Terry told me they had been betrayed by Dennis Skuter. I think they decided to prevent a possible betrayal or vengeful act. As unpleasant as it was, their preemptive action would have had a nastier impact on me, had I not had faith in God. I accepted the situation as if the Lord was saying, “Victor, it must be a clean break; it is all the way or nothing. That is the way it must be.” I had tried to preserve, and provide for, myself.
What hurt even more when I was dismissed was that Tim, a professing believer, did not stand with me. Despite how he saw a presumed brother in Christ treated, summarily dismissed without warning, he was silent and remained with the company. He stood with unbelievers, loving his paycheck more than decency, justice, faith, and truth – in short, the Lord. He later confessed to me that he had resented me.
In any case, I was out the door and off to Bible school in Saskatoon, with bridges burned. The time would come when I would find out just how well Tim fared; it was not well at all. He hung around long enough to also be abused by them, and more.
I thought I had come to develop a trusting relationship with Bob Vail, whom I appreciated. I was wrong. Not being a believer, he was not capable of treating me with fairness and respect.
In his defense, however, I must say that I did something as a zealous young Christian that was neither right nor fair to him and his partners. I posted Biblical and religious words on our street signboard without their permission, trying to witness to the traffic, self-righteously feeling it was my duty and right to do so. I also closed down the lot on Sundays, determined to keep the Sabbath (which was not the Sabbath anyway), when they wanted it open. As well, I was offending some customers, as Tim and I would preach to them, and even try to convert them when they came to view homes.
It was only a matter of time before things came to a head. I really had no right to impose anything in their business against their wishes, unless God was leading me, and I don’t believe He was. I only liked to think He was. Now I understand – there is a time and state of knowing things surely.
As I was struggling over Marilyn’s and my relationship and what direction I should take, the Pauls called to tell me that Marilyn had suddenly become seriously ill and been admitted to the Grace Hospital in St. James, Winnipeg.
I immediately flew to Winnipeg to join her mother. While at first they did not know what the problem was, they came to conclude she had equine encephalitis – Marilyn was seriously ill. Her head swelled beyond recognition, and she was delirious. They placed her in a padded room so she wouldn’t hurt herself when she thrashed. Her mother was greatly anxious. We prayed for Marilyn, and I exhorted Mrs. Paul to believe, reminding her that we had asked the Lord to heal Marilyn, declaring that all was in God’s hands.
Marilyn did recover, and in the weeks and months to follow, we corresponded by mail again, but it was never the same. I was perplexed by her changing moods, thoughts, and disagreement with me in various matters. I later suspected that her illness affected her mentally.
I was also concerned that while I had been dating Marilyn, she jokingly remarked to her parents that she had been out with “the apostle Paul” again. I had been serious about the Lord and could do little else but talk about Him and spiritual matters. She and her friends were not nearly as interested. I was not aware of her remarks when this was happening; I found out about them later when her mother laughingly told me (not in an unkind way). I finally realized I was not to pursue marriage with her.
Update, March 2018, especially urgent for house pet owners:
I had never made the connection between Marilyn Paul letting her poodle lick her mouth and her falling seriously ill with encephalitis. The medical establishment was stymied as to the cause of her illness. When I recently red David Wolfe’s article posted here, I remembered and realized this could be the answer.
People are living dangerously in their naïve pleasures and don’t even know it. Today, especially, there’s a growing inordinate fondness for house pets.
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” (Hosea 4:6 MKJV).
One day at school, several students placed an order for burgers from McDonald’s. Janet Connor, Jack’s daughter, took our orders, collected the money, and went to pick up the take-out.
Because I was on a Weight Watcher’s diet and didn’t wish to offend it too much, I asked Janet to get me the biggest hamburger they had, but without fries, shake, onion rings, or anything else. I gave her a dollar, which in those days would have gotten a Big Mac with fair change returning. She returned with the smallest hamburger there was, which was likely about 39 cents, plain, no cheese – or change. Others had not given her enough for theirs, apparently, and she had no change to return.
Money and food matters were a problem to me, no matter how small; as a result, I was dismayed, but I said nothing more. An expression on my face could have betrayed my feelings, however, because I thought I witnessed Henry and Jack laughing about it as I walked near Henry’s office (they witnessed the event and knew the value of McDonald’s items). On the other hand, it could have been simply self-consciousness about my problems. Money and food problems were just two of many bondages that would need clearing up.
A wonderful revelation came to me one day. Jack Connor, Henry Blackaby, other students, and I were discussing how the Body of Christ works as a physical body, with all parts automatically working in unison, under the Head. Though we did not discuss this aspect I am about to describe, I realized with some amazement and excitement that those in Christ’s Body, wherever they may be and whether they know one another or not, are working in unison and harmony with each other because their Head, Jesus Christ, is directing them.
The implications are significant. We are not talking fleshly activities or church works here, where everyone pitches in to have a potluck supper, bingo game, conference, church service, or “crusade.” We are talking about people around the world, people who do not know each other personally, in spirit doing what they are doing, their works in complete harmony with those of others in the Body who, in spirit and in truth, are serving the Lord, the Head, Who directs all.
What a rest there is in that truth! He is running the show, not we! The hand doesn’t operate independently of the Head, and the foot doesn’t operate independently of the hand, eye, heart, or lungs. All are one as the Head directs. I can know that I have brothers and sisters, wherever they may be, with whom I am one in Christ. I am benefiting from them and they from me. We are contributing every moment to one another.
I was so excited about this truth that Jack Connor asked me to share it on the local TV station where he had some allotted time. I was wondering if this was not going to be the start of something more public, but that was not to be for a long, long time.
I look back and wish I had had a teacher or pastor who could have been direct and wise with me in so many matters. There is this prevalent error in nominal Christian churches: Pastors are reticent to counsel unless approached by their flock, and even then, their counsel can be ambiguous because they hesitate to offend.
Perhaps I was not about to listen, not being as teachable as necessary at this point, but I also did not even know to ask. I didn’t know a pastor should be available to guide me in all matters of life. It is up to the shepherd, and not the sheep, to determine needful courses of action, to take the initiative to lead, feed, and protect the sheep. Sheep are dumb, not knowing what they need – they don’t even know what they want! But I know the Lord provides what He wills when the time is right.
In the fall of 1973, on the highway heading north of Saskatoon, I recognized Barry Cloutier as we were driving by one another, and we stopped to meet. You will recall that Barry was a former business associate and friend from the Bay in Winnipeg, he had rented a room in our home for a time, and was the fellow with whom my department manager, Bob Richards, another fellow, and I had tried to start a music band. He was now a traveling salesman.
Barry was super-extraverted and unabashed at the worst of times. He could be crude, insulting, cutting, vulgar, witty, and merciless, perhaps worse than caustic comic Don Rickles. He partied at every opportunity and drank himself stupid. But he could also be polite, humorous, and friendly when he wanted to be, just like Rickles.
I tried to share my newfound faith with Barry, giving him several “Christian” books I had in the trunk of my car for just such an occasion. Some of them were the ones that came through customs from “Tremendous Charlie Jones” two years before (books I wouldn’t give to anyone today, but they had seeds of truth in them).
He took them, saying very little. I suspected that he despised what I was offering him. Not many years later I heard that Barry died of cancer.
I now needed a place to stay, but had a very limited budget. An elderly divorcee or widow, Vi Allen, had come to Henry Blackaby’s church, offering a room with light housekeeping facilities in her home for a student at a very reasonable price. Henry and I drove there, investigated, and I accepted. My first home in Saskatoon was the 16th of my life.
Vi had another live-in boarder with a room next to mine in her three-bedroom home. Lorne Hauser was a drug addict who had been in institutions, suffering shock treatments and other maltreatment at the hands of the medical establishment. He was also hooked on Valium, a prescribed medication claimed to be non-addictive at the time. Lorne was a derelict soul in his late forties or more.
One night, at about one or two in the morning, Lorne woke me by turning on my light. He was having a flashback or hallucination and talked about performing operations on people to make them well again. He had taken pillows and sofa cushions, laid them out in the living room, and cut them open, with stuffing strewn everywhere.
He was standing at my door with a butcher knife. I wondered if I was about to be his next patient. He was incoherent, saying things I didn’t understand. I replied to him as if he was normal and there was nothing unusual going on. He retreated to his “work,” and I retreated to prayer. I committed the whole situation into the Lord’s hands, trusting Him to take care of me, and I went back to sleep…about two days later – just kidding – I really did go back to sleep.
It is amazing what trusting the Lord can do. He takes care, not only of our circumstances, but also of our attitudes toward them, which are even more important.
Who says there is no God?
When I told Henry what happened, he had a good laugh about it.
It wasn’t long before I was not wanted at that house. Lorne complained about me for some reason, and Vi asked me to leave. I didn’t need much persuasion!