PART ONE – Darkness to Light (cont.)
One day, at my next home, I found that the rent of $70 for my light housekeeping room was coming due, and I had no money. It happened to be due on my birthday, April 1. In the mail, I found a $50 gift from my mother, and Marilyn Coles, a university student from the Bible school, came over for supper the night before and gave me $20, which she said the Lord moved her to give me. She knew nothing about my due rent or lack of finances. There was the $70.
Who says there is no God?
The Lord reigns over all things, unbelieving mothers, friends, birthdays, timing, mathematics… everything.
Now the Lord taught me another lesson, and that was not to ask for, or expect, financial help or support from anyone at any time. I had asked one of my former friends and home-owning partner, Dave Miller, if he would be willing to support me in Bible school. I was refused, fairly and understandably so.
When I first became a believer, my mother’s cousin Aunt Hazel Chute of Dauphin expressed joy and thankfulness for it. She promised me that if I ever decided to go to Bible school or seminary, all I had to do was ask, and they would help me financially. She and her husband, Melburn, professed faith in Christ.
Months later, I asked them, and they didn’t help me. They didn’t offer any explanation other than not being able to afford it. I quickly learned that my trust needed to be in the Lord. I never asked for anything again, and as in the example with the rent money due, He always provided, proving Himself faithful in many tight situations.
As I got to know and observe Marilyn Coles, I noticed that she was one to organize, direct, supervise, and control. I saw her younger brother, Les, chafe at her requests and manipulations, as she compelled him to pick people up with his Datsun and be involved in church and social activities. She had only been at Faith Baptist for a couple of years, but already she was Henry Blackaby’s “right hand man,” organizing and directing many of the activities, like Sunday school.
“Right hand man” was closer to the reality than one may think. I noticed that Marilyn repeated Henry’s phrases and mannerisms. As he was talking, he, in his peculiar way, would put forward his right forearm and bob his closed right hand up and down, with the end of his thumb pointed upward, and say things like, “Goodnight! (as in ‘Good grief’ or ‘Goodness!’) We need to (instead of the common ‘must,’ ‘can,’ or ‘should’) share (not ‘speak’ or ‘declare’ or ‘say’) some things (not ‘this’ or ‘that,’ specifically, or ‘the facts’)….”
While Bob Bye (another student) and a few others were somehow prone to copying Henry’s personal idiosycrasies, expressions, and mannerisms, Marilyn would mimic both his words and his motions constantly and robotically. It seemed like a personality cult to me. I wondered of them, “Don’t you have personalities of your own? Must you borrow? Get a life, already!”
Back to the control (from the being controlled) aspect. We once had a Bible discussion with about five of us, and Marilyn was leading. A girl spoke and then I spoke. I don’t know that I interrupted; I might have; I don’t recall. Immediately Marilyn put her hand on me to prevent me from speaking so the girl could continue. Call it wisdom on her part or social etiquette for the girl’s sake, I don’t know, but Marilyn was always manipulative, not only with me, but with all. I didn’t like it, but you wouldn’t know it by what I did.
I had a little insight into my new landlady, Resie Korber, a Jewish widow. We had talks and she bitterly expressed something she said many Jews would say: “We Jews are called ‘the chosen people.’ We say, ‘Let God choose somebody else.’”
I had some knowledge of how Jews had suffered throughout history, and having lost my family and friends because of my faith, I could somewhat understand why she said that; however, I felt bad hearing it. I expected that, one day, Jews would be thankful for having been chosen of God.
Some of the students I recall at the Christian Training Center were Bob Bye, a proud and pretentious perfectionist, son of Bill and Grace Bye, pastor of a church in Edmonton; Randy Wilson from Kelowna, BC, someone we knew as a “health nut”; Al Niebergal of Vernon, BC, former addict, cleansed by God’s grace, I am told; Dan Fishley, a former addict, also cleansed by His grace, and his wife Dale – Dan was forever striving to have everyone understand things his way; Pat Martin, a long-haired Catholic hippie from the same area, the Okanagan Valley, who had done drugs, still drank, and though religious, was not repentant of his ways; Jean Johnson, daughter of Baptist pastor Bert Johnson of North Battleford, Saskatchewan – Bert was also an eccentric inventor; Larry Rempel, a troubled former Mennonite who became bitter and rebelled (I would see him in that state three years later at Randy Wilson’s wedding in Steinbach, Manitoba); Warren Mackenzie, a young zealot who had also been on drugs in the Okanagan Valley area – he would later despise me for something God did with me and others (more later); Lane Koster, son of Len and Ruth Koster (Len was an outreach minister at Faith Baptist); and his younger brother, Reid, troubled and argumentative, but more honest and real.
Harry Roder of Concept-Therapy was one of the first people who alerted me to eating for health as well as pleasure. Fellow Bible student Randy Wilson was the first to play a dominant, lasting role in my life, making me more aware of pollution and corruption in the production, processing, and marketing of food, and of the consequent necessity to seriously exercise discretion and discipline in diet. In no uncertain terms, he encouraged me and others to eat organic. Though we gave him a hard time and initially did not take him seriously, his words eventually bore fruit.
When I moved to Saskatoon, I started attending Henry Blackaby’s church – Faith Baptist Church. Here are those I recall: John Doucette (addicted to Coca-Cola) and wife Pat (newly married at the time); John Lobur, an elderly Ukrainian immigrant and widower who was quite lonely; Ludwig and Pat Teichgraber; June Schmidt, who died of cancer years later, we heard; Noreen Workman; Les Coles (Marilyn’s brother, who later married Noreen); Diane Dingwall, who later married Bill, a young American zealot on mission to “convert Canada to Christ”; Paul Johnson, older brother to Jean, who aspired to be a minister; Joe Pfeifer, who later married Jean Johnson; Gail Koster; Jan Green, a defensive, if not cynical, woman; her future husband, Richard Bellamy, who was greatly offended with my coercive witnessing approach with him (I don’t blame him); Mrs. Bates, the eldest person there; elder Jake Bergen and wife Ruby; their sons Gary and Greg Bergen; elder Ken Eagle, who was greatly offended over my sermon on sacrificing superfluous physical possessions and comforts to advance evangelism (more on that to come); elder Lawrence Ashton and wife Jean; Ken and June Fowler, and their children Rick and Debbie; Harry Strauss and Judy Linton, who later married; Wayne Andries, an enthusiastic, friendly, young prankster; Dan Coggins, of Catholic background; Larry Sveinbjornsen, whose parents we met in Humboldt or Wynyard, whom we tried to help, the father being alcoholic, Larry being mentally handicapped and on medications, and the mother, hurting and bitter, seeking help and not finding it – Henry spent hours and hours with Larry, to no apparent avail.
One day I gave a lecture, and Harry Strauss, a newcomer at Faith Baptist, took to heart my call for uncompromising commitment to Jesus Christ, but it didn’t turn out as I had hoped or expected – you will hear more of the direction he took. It would be one of the first examples of how people would take my words, but not my directions or intentions, which left me wondering what I was doing wrong.
Many have taken the Bible and made up diverse doctrines and religions; they have taken the apostle Paul’s words and twisted them (2 Peter 3:15-16). So should it be surprising if people interpret my words in a way other than I intended? Birthing Ishmaels seems to be a fact of life!
Henry spent hours and hours counseling Larry Sveinbjornsen (a bachelor on medications) without any apparent success. I wondered how Henry justified the time and energies spent in this way.
Larry smoked and was violently defensive about it. One day, I barely mentioned smoking in a sermon, and Larry was incensed about it, complaining to Henry and desiring that nobody in the church ever have the opportunity or freedom to say anything against smoking again. At one point, he even physically attacked Marilyn, accusing her of stealing his cigarettes, which Henry had taken from him and handed to Marilyn.
Baptists and members of formal church structures can only think and move in externals. It was not his cigarettes, but Larry that needed removal, either by life-changing repentance or dismissal after sufficient effort and warning. We would hear more on Larry later.
To my chagrin, I came to realize that in this Bible school, I studied church history, denominational history, homiletics (the art of preaching), Sunday school and church administration, pastoral counseling, choir directing, evangelism, and Greek, but very little of the Bible. I wanted Bible! Nevertheless, God was dealing with me.
Here again, I came into conflict on some issues in the church, because I found discrepancies between what they practiced and taught, and what I found in the Bible. How little I knew the extent of the differences!
I recall my first sermon in homiletics class. As a zealous student, I had fervently prayed that God would give me a message, and He did. The message was that it was not our circumstances, but our attitude towards our circumstances that was the issue. It was about accepting our circumstances and giving thanks in everything. In effect, it was an acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God, or if you will, the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
I look back and marvel at what He gave me. It was not common for one at my stage of spiritual progression to think in terms of giving thanks to God for everything in all circumstances, acknowledging that He is over all things at all times. It was a sermon that fellow students appreciated, one that described a foundational principle of a walk by faith.
In the summer of 1974, Henry Blackaby sent Marilyn and me to minister to students in their mid to later teens at a youth retreat near Lloydminster, Alberta. Marilyn gave a prepared speech one day, and the students were quite moved. I don’t know if it was because of a demonstration she used during her speech by having the lights turned off for a few seconds to give the people an illustration of spiritual darkness, or because she had a rapport in spirit with them, as she often seemed to have with people of all ages, or both. I suspected she had an anointing of the Spirit of God, at least for the occasion. She manifested sincerity and care, if not compassion, which they thirstily received.
I was envious and tried to preach to the kids that which I had prepared, but all it seemed to do was stifle their spirits. It was doctrine rather than life, the letter without the spirit, the Bible without love, religion without reality.
Neither of us had the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Future developments and revelations would serve to teach me the difference between power of the flesh and power of the Spirit, and the difference between carnal, human, social, emotional love and godly, willful, spiritual love. At this time, I had little understanding or knowledge that these two opposites or separate kinds of love existed, or that one could be mistaken for the other.
The Southern Baptists believe that the local church is the Body of Christ. They teach that one is not really part of the Body of Christ universal unless committed to a local church congregation, sealed through total immersion in water. Seeing that I had been baptized in the Alliance Church and not theirs, they did not consider my baptism valid.
Because I was not baptized into “the Body of Christ,” that is, the local Baptist church, I was not permitted to partake in the “Lord’s Supper.” Therefore, in order for me to be in true fellowship with them, I was required to be baptized again. According to them, it was not “again,” because the Alliance Church did not believe in being baptized into a local congregation; besides, it was not Southern Baptist.
I did not think for a moment that my faith or relationship with Christ was dependent upon being rebaptized (or perhaps even being baptized once). I knew where I stood on the matter, but I submitted to their will, believing it was not an issue with the Lord either way.
On this matter, Marilyn Coles and I had a revelatory experience while working with the youth in Lloydminster. We were reading the Bible at 1 Corinthians 12 when we simultaneously realized the truth of the 13th verse which said:
“For also by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, even all were made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 MKJV).
We suddenly realized, marveling, what I had suspected in spirit, that the Southern Baptist doctrine, suggesting that one is not part of the Body of Christ unless water baptized into a local church, was error. We were at that time given some subtle notice that our days as Baptists were numbered. This truth would divide me from the Baptists, and it would divide Marilyn from them as well, if she embraced it.
Opinion is what denominationalism and religious divisions are all about. One man disagrees with another on doctrine or on how things ought to be done, so he goes his way and starts his own church. “We believe in… whereas they believe….”
Henry Blackaby sent us out to “start a work” in Lanigan, Wynyard, and Humboldt, Saskatchewan. In one of those towns, as we began Bible studies, word got out to an evangelical fellow who was already there “starting a work,” reaching out to the youth of the community, which seemed predominantly Catholic. He requested a meeting with me and was quite upset.
“We are trying to reach these people for Christ,” he told me. “I have this youth center set up and kids are coming, but there isn’t enough work to split up between two or more churches. It’s going to hurt the cause of Christ. We are both working for the same Lord. Why should we compete? What are the people here going to think? It’ll confuse them. Start a work where there’s nothing happening. You’re going to spoil everything and waste all the work we’ve done.”
I believe the fellow was of a nondenominational organization, which, in many cases, is a denomination without a name, essentially the same as any other – structured, formal, and by concept and nature, necessarily self-righteous. (Is self-righteousness not the cause of these gatherings?) I saw his point, yet being a Southern Baptist, we had some doctrinal differences, which I was erroneously taught to be important enough to defend and promote. Therefore, I rejected his argument.
But this situation never left me entirely. There was something inherently wrong with the divisions in nominal Christianity and what we were doing to maintain them. Where was the unity of the original believers at Pentecost? They were one:
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things belonging to him was his own, but they had all things in common” (Acts 4:32 EMTV).
“Now all who believed were together, and they had all things in common, and they were selling their possessions and goods, and were dividing them among all, to the degree that anyone had a need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were sharing food with joy and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44-47 EMTV).
I began experiencing a painful dilemma of a peculiar sort. I would walk into the Christian Training Center’s tiny library, with no more than maybe two thousand books at best. One of those was Strong’s Systematic Theology, a large, thick book in fine print, filled with doctrine and discourse.
I thought, “How in the world will I ever have enough time to wade through this one book alone, much less all these other books, and much less all the theological books in the world? Do I not need to search all things out to conclude what is right and true? I am not capable of such a thing! Is Calvin right? Is Luther right? Are any of these men right in all they teach? If so, which ones? Where shall I go? Who can I truly trust?” This consideration was very perplexing to me.
Nobody, not even the pastors, Henry or Jack, could help me, and nobody else seemed to mind too much. They seemed quite satisfied with the direction and schooling they were giving or getting there, apparently confident that they had the truth (or careless as to whether they had it). My problem, however, would be solved shortly and in a most marvelous way.
Henry decided to visit some Baptist churches and hold meetings – have a “revival” of sorts – in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. He took Randy Wilson, Marilyn Coles, and me through the Rockies in his car in the winter with bald tires – and I mean baby-bare-bottom bald. There were times we literally had to push the car to get it up a hill or two. We had originally thought of taking my new Challenger, but the gas would be more costly, and the car wasn’t big enough to accommodate all of us comfortably.
We spent a week with a variety of people. One pastor was involved in interdenominational Charismatic meetings, which Henry and Southern Baptists considered delusion, if not anathema. The pastor tried so hard to be loving, patient, and joyful, but he did not venture to bear witness to Henry or the rest of us, likely expecting to be expelled if he did so.
We met with another family, the Carmacks, who were struggling with personal and spiritual issues, not having leadership. The father (Vern) was a bit of an independent thinker, the children were confused, and the grandmother was in a terrible state of bitterness.
She once taught Sunday school, and she tried hard to prove herself knowledgeable to us. She was quite critical and combative. Not a word came out of our mouths without her confronting us on our great lack of knowledge, knowledge she thought we were supposed to have, knowledge which gave her claim to superiority. I hoped I would never come to be that way.
One of Vern’s boys, a young teen, became somewhat attached to me. I was sorry to leave him behind. We corresponded for a while thereafter, but soon lost contact.
On this trip, Henry proposed I be his personal disciple, as Timothy was to Paul. I was flattered to tears, having admiration for him. Knowing I was someone recent in his life, I wondered who I was, that I should receive such an honor. I looked forward with excitement to the prospect; however, my reaction seemed to disquiet him somewhat.
I very much enjoyed the work with the Southern Baptists and relished the opportunities their work seemed to afford, particularly with Henry. They had a conference at Banff National Park in 1974, and Henry asked me to lead the Sunday school class for young adults, which I did. There were about a hundred attending. There was significant diversity of thought and perspective, but I was prepared, accustomed to spending hours on a lesson for classes at Faith Baptist, having enough material for a full day, never mind a half hour to an hour.
Some there were quite opinionated and not shy to express themselves, while others were quiet and withdrawn or disinterested. Somehow, I managed to control the aggressive and draw the reticent to participate. I was greatly refreshed in that experience and received compliments for it, comments that were genuine and not the usual polite encouragements one often finds, especially in evangelical activities.
I mention this event to express that I had great hopes with Henry, enjoying every minute of it. I aspired to be a Christian ministerial star some day. Why, I even dreamed that I might become another Billy Graham, or greater!
Once when Uncle Fred Molnar drove me somewhere in Calgary, he pulled over, broke down, and cried, speaking of the insane jealousy his wife, Delores, had. He said he could go nowhere without her suspecting that he was eyeing some woman. One day she openly scolded him in church, claiming he was looking at another woman. He said he was so embarrassed he never wanted to go to church or anywhere else with his wife again. Who could blame him?
I could feel Fred’s pain, and I felt badly. The only thing I could tell him at the time was to look to God, to have faith in Him. Apparently, Delores was consumed with jealousy and insecurity.
Al Niebergal was a rather legalistic fellow who criticized me as a believer for owning my sporty canary-yellow Dodge Challenger. I did not see it his way, especially when I knew the Lord had given me the car when I wasn’t looking for it. But because I decided to work with the Southern Baptists and perhaps further my education to become a minister, I needed money and not the car, so I sold it.
After using it for a year, I sold it for nearly as much as I had paid for it, approximately $4200 (I think I paid $4350). I had lived “expensively at the bottom” with my old Chevy Impala, and “inexpensively at the top” with the new car I wanted – a principle God would speak to me about years later.
Henry asked me to preach one evening while he was away. I chose to speak about commitment and sacrifice in light of (or darkness of) eternal damnation. I reasoned with the congregation that if people were really going to burn in Hell forever, how could we possibly sit around doing the things we did, enjoying the things we enjoyed, wasting immensely precious time with so much at stake?
I advised that we should be selling all, including the lamp on our end table, buying tracts, and handing them out at every spare moment. A $50 lamp could buy a thousand tracts, I argued, and if but one person came to know the Lord by those tracts, would it not be worth it? I also pointed out the tragedy and consequence of not doing all we could to save a perishing world.
I saw a lot of glum faces. The elders were indignant, and a visiting young Southern Baptist from Texas, Robert Cannon, could not help but indirectly take several opportunities to severely criticize me for imposing “such guilt” on people. He was very upset.
When Henry heard about what happened, he was, as usual, in good humor about it. “You sure got them worked up!” he laughed. (I suspect he was rather frustrated that the congregation was generally passive about reaching out to win souls, and glad someone was stirring them.) What I said was certainly true, at least in logic. Did the people really believe most were going to burn in Hell forever? They certainly did not act like it. Did I believe it? There would come a day when I knew what I believed.
I preached one evening on the Beatitudes, when Henry was away. I prayed first that the Lord might give me good understanding on that passage. Then it came to me that there was a sequence; one thing led to another to another.
Fine to be poor in spirit, but it isn’t enough – one has to mourn; fine to mourn, but it isn’t enough – one has to be meek (open); fine to be meek, but it isn’t enough – one has to hunger and thirst after righteousness. One must also have mercy and purity of heart. At this point, one is a peacemaker who will be persecuted.
After the service, Ken Fowler came to me and fairly bubbled over with enthusiasm. “I never heard the Beatitudes described that way before! It sure made sense to me!”
But when Henry heard of it, he was visibly annoyed. “I’ve never seen the Beatitudes that way,” he objected with an apparent sense of disappointment. He didn’t seem to agree, or at least, he felt left out and was not happy about it; he didn’t elaborate. It didn’t occur to me that I should perhaps run my planned sermon by him before I preached it. He hadn’t said a word about that.
For one thing, he was away and that is why I was preaching – I was taking his place. For another, he never asked me to run anything by him, and third, I believed God gave me that understanding. Did I need to check it out with him even if he was around? It just did not occur to me. I was excited about what I had learned and was eager to share it with others.
The situation made me wonder. What if I was right about my understanding? What if Henry was wrong? Why were we not in agreement? How do individuals within a group unite in understanding and be in agreement on their doctrine? Where was God? Where was the Spirit of Truth, Who was supposed to lead us into all truth, even as Jesus promised?
I recall with regret a moment when working with the Baptists, having been sent by Henry to help Bill and Grace Bye in Vacation Bible School in Edmonton. A lady and I were gathering children in the city and bringing them to church for classes. Our front seat was full of kids sitting beside us and in my lap.
One boy of about eight years (I think his name was Jeremy) was very hyper, jumping around as we were driving. I tried to calm him, but words failed, so I secretly grabbed him by the sides of his rib cage and squeezed his flesh. He immediately quieted down, though he did not look at me or acknowledge in any way what I had done.
While I did not injure him, I certainly gave him some discomfort. I am sorry for that. Perhaps it was the right thing to do at the time, but I feel I broke an unspoken trust and did damage to his soul, in the Name of God, that he might carry for the rest of his days. I simply pray that God will take care of him and the spiritual injury I caused.
I am guilty of so many travesties, I can’t count them, and they have all pained me. Why, oh why, I ask, did I do, speak or think such things? Why can’t we realize in advance the implications and potential consequences of our actions, be right and good and a blessing to all at all times, and not react as we do in so many situations?
Regret is one of my greatest regrets.