My Testimony

My Testimony of God’s Amazing GraceHow I Came to Know Christ

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. I Corinthians 15:10

After graduating from high school in 1977 and joining the Air Force, I was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. Florida was one of the states with a legal drinking age of only eighteen. Being young, dumb, single and without any parental supervision, I took advantage of my new found “freedom.” After two years in the barracks, I moved off base with a co-worker named David. We ended up inhabiting a two-story apartment on Okaloosa Island. Our back yard adjoined the parking lot of Cash’s Faux Pas Lounge, while our front door faced the beach front hotels with their bars and perpetual party atmosphere.

David claimed to be an atheist, and we both lived like one. When David’s father unexpectedly died, the Air Force gave him a hardship discharge to care for his mother. Unable to afford the rent myself, I was forced to move out of the apartment at the month’s end. I lost not only my security deposit but also the individual with whom I shared living expenses. Just prior to David’s departure, an incident had occurred which left me staring down the barrel of a .38 revolver and potentially facing an eternity in hell.

A neighbor in our apartment complex was a stockbroker—and an alcoholic. One night, this neighbor’s roommate borrowed his car and wrecked it. With no money for repairs, this roommate was instructed not to return home without the necessary funds for repairs. I had quickly driven the roommate back to his apartment so he could collect a few personal items when, suddenly, our drunken neighbor entered the front door.

Immediately we bolted for the sliding glass doors in the back and jumped from the balcony, landing in the sand below. We each split in opposite directions. When I came back, I saw the drunken neighbor throwing all of his roommate’s possessions over the front balcony, all the while yelling obscenities into the air. I later watched him reenter his apartment, and then waited a bit longer to attempt a return to my own apartment. As I began walking up the outside stairwell to my apartment, this intoxicated neighbor’s front door suddenly burst open—releasing my very drunken neighbor who was now wielding a gun. He ran to me as I ascended the steps and pointed the gun to my head. Fortunately, I was able to calm him down and talk my way out of the situation. This event—along with a life generally in disarray— brought me to the point of reassessing my life’s direction.

With my housing situation in limbo, I remember thinking of how tired I was of my life. Instinctively, I knew that I really needed to quit drinking and partying—to abandon the bars, move off the island and return to college during the evenings. I also concluded that I was not going to find a wife in the bars, and determined that church just might be a good place to find the right one.

In my search for a church, I talked with a man who seemed to be moral and claimed to be a Christian. He worked in the Senior Enlisted Advisor’s office. I told him about my decision to go to church. He then invited me over to his house. He and his wife showed me a couple of movies for three consecutive nights. On the third evening, he told me he could call one of the Church of Christ elders to baptize me that very night. Something in me—most likely the fruit of seed planted in a Baptist church as a child— told me to decline, and I did.

After this fruitless encounter, I talked to another young man who I knew lived godly and claimed to be a Christian. His name was Clint. He was the manager of a health club that I attended on the other side of the base in Niceville. I told him about my decision to go to church. He invited me to his church—First United Methodist Church in Niceville. He asked me to promise him that I would come to church on the following Sunday. So I did.

Looking back, it is amazing how many roadblocks Satan placed in my path. Another obstacle had to be overcome on the very day I was to begin my life-long pursuit of serving the Lord. I shared my decision with another man who lived on the other end of the island. He said he would go with me to whatever church I chose. He lived on the far end of the island so he offered to pick me up on the way to the church. On Sunday morning, after he failed to show up, I called him. He told me to come down to his place. He sat there wearing shorts and watching a television preacher. He said we could just stay there in the comfortable recliners and watch the guy on television rather than going to church. “What was the difference?” We could do church and be comfortable at the same time. Except for my promise to Clint, I might have joined him. I shudder at the potential consequences of such an ill conceived notion.

I went to church and especially remember all the friendly people. I remember meeting many other young people, but I still felt peculiarly out of place. My month’s rent ended on the apartment so I moved off the island and into a house in the country with a man that worked in the photo shop next to me in the Wing headquarters. He was still heavily involved in the very things from which I was trying to free myself. During all hours of the night, he would have girls in the house, and was involved in drinking, smoking pot, etc. I determined to keep my distance from these activities.

One evening, one of his photo shop co-workers came to the house in the middle of the night. I simply ignored his banging on the door. A few minutes later I heard someone in the house. He had broken in. I remember peeking around the corner. He saw me and called out my name.

I went out and he proceeded to tell me what was a heartrending story. He confessed that he had picked up a 10-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother earlier that evening and had molested the little girl. About the time he was finishing his story, the owner of the house came home with some girls in tow. I told this man to repeat his story, and I went off to bed.

The next morning was Sunday, and I remember rising very early, having had a very restless night of sleep. About 6:00 AM, I remember standing over this probable child molester as he slept on the couch. Many thoughts rushed through my head. Could I believe his story? Should I just grab a bat or something and start hitting him while he slept? I wanted to kill him, but was his story even true? Fortunately, as these thoughts rushed through my mind, his eyes popped open. I asked him if he remembered what he had told me, and he said yes. I asked if his story was true and he confirmed my worst fears.

I was not yet saved, but I always wonder what would have happened had I sought vengeance and justice through physical violence on this man. I had been standing over him for what seemed like an eternity—maybe only ten minutes—when, suddenly, he opened his eyes and looked up at me. God, in His mercy, had spared me (and this other man).

I proceeded to talk to him about turning himself in to the authorities— telling him that the police were probably looking for him. If they found him, they were going to make sure he resisted arrest and unmercifully beat him. I finally convinced him to let me drive him to surrender himself to authorities. At church, I told Clint and the others about what was going on in this house. They agreed that I needed to get out of this place as soon as possible. So I moved in with Ron (a Lieutenant in the A.F.) into his one bedroom apartment. I had no problem sleeping in the living room on the couch. But I still was not saved.

Sometime later, I testified and this child molester was rightfully sentenced to hard labor at Ft. Leavenworth for many years. One evening, I remember Clint’s mentioning to Ron that he thought I was ready for “it.” They proceeded by showing me in the Bible that I was a sinner on my way to hell; that the Lord Jesus Christ had died for my sins; and that I could be saved by simply trusting in Him. They asked me if I wanted to pray and ask the Lord to save me. I most certainly did.

Clint told me to repeat after him, and so I did. The only part I remember was that Clint closed the prayer “in Jesus name, Amen.” When I was closing my prayer I simply added, “and for His sake.” When I opened my eyes they were staring at me with expressions of shock. My addition to his prayer must have indicated to them my true sincerity. I meant every word of the prayer and sincerely trusted in Christ. My life changed, never again to be the same. However, as you will see, I shortly left my “first love”1 and again wallowed in the muck and mire of this world.

Now that I was saved, I needed a Bible. I remember going to the Christian bookstore. Ron showed me one that he liked. I thought he was talking about the cover… believing all Bibles were the same inside. He handed me a New American Standard Version (NASV). I said, “Great, that’s the one for me!” I did not yet know that there was more than one version of the Bible in print. I requested the best Bible they had, and the final selection was a $50 leather NASV. I would later come to my convictions concerning the King James Version of the Bible.

After a short time in the one bedroom apartment, Ron and I—and later a man named Dick Mallon—moved into a rather spacious house. Dick was also a Lieutenant in the Air Force and was a very biblically literate Christian. Later, I ended up dating a girl and she began attending church with me.

One evening each week I would attend a Bible study at Clint’s parents’ house. By this time, Dick had moved in with us. He accompanied me to one of these meetings. As soon as the woman got up to start teaching, he simply closed his Bible and walked out. I went after him and asked him what was wrong. He said he did not know much Bible, but he knew that it was wrong for a woman to be teaching like this over men. I asked him for proof and he showed me the following verse.

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

After the Lord used Dick to straighten me out, I determined not to go back to any more meetings. Nor was I going to continue doing the things they had taught me.

About this time, another person came into my life. His name was Eddie Mills. He came to my office every day at the 33rd Tactical Fighting Wing headquarters. One day I asked him about some particular issues in the Bible that Dick had told me were wrong. Eddie had this weird look of disbelief. Every day from that day forth, he would come into my office and quote scripture to me about sound doctrine. The one he quoted most often was from Second Timothy, while pulling at his ear.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

The word of God was working on my heart although I do not remember really understanding why he was quoting this verse, or what it meant. He would go to church and learn some more Bible and come to my office and teach me accordingly. Finally, my girlfriend and I broke up and I visited his church (Faith Independent Baptist Church in Niceville) David Cosma was the pastor.

Shortly thereafter, I joined the church and was baptized again (this time by immersion rather than the Methodist approach of sprinkling). I started studying the concept of biblical right division, the different Bible versions, and the details of the modern “religious” movements in America (including the meetings that I had attended at Clint’s parents’ house). I began giving the scripture to my housemates. Soon Dick joined the church, and shortly thereafter Ron followed. By this time, Tom Whitney had moved in with us and in a number of months he also joined the church.

I was growing spiritually and enthusiastically witnessing to everyone. At one point, I remember talking to the pastor about someone that had backslidden, making the comment that I could not see how anybody could backslide away from the Lord. He quoted the following verse.

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

During this time (1981), we took a road trip to Millbrook, Alabama to visit Victory Baptist Church. After Eddie left the Air Force, he and his family moved to this church to attend Bible college. I was determined to stay in Florida and teach in the Christian school. When I exited from the Air Force, I returned home to visit for a few weeks. I ran into an old girl friend and suddenly the things of God were no longer so important. I went back to Florida; packed up my belongings; and moved to Pennsylvania to attend college. No longer was Christ first!

For three years I did not serve the Lord. I continued drifting further and further away from Him. I tried to keep the sin limited to certain areas of my life. I told God that I would not party (or go to bars) on Sundays. However, by my senior year at Penn State, I had secured my job offers and began frequenting the bars every night of the week including Sundays. I was miserable but could not figure out how to change things on my own power. I tried to go to church a few times at Easter and on special occasions, but something had changed within me.

I began losing all the Bible knowledge that I had learned. I would listen to the campus preachers and even tried witnessing to people between classes once. I tried to talk to one of the listeners and show him some of the things I had learned before leaving Florida—all to no avail.

After graduating from college, I went to Europe for one month. I again partied constantly. After a month, I returned and moved to Atlanta, Georgia to work with Marriott Hotels as an assistant controller. I remember making up a story about a girlfriend in an alcohol-related car accident as the reason I had supposedly quit drinking.

I was trying to find a way to get back on track using my own strength and power without really turning back to God. However, I wasn’t praying or reading my Bible or going to church. I was just trying to find a way to quit all these things that left me feeling so empty without telling anyone that I was a Christian.

After I had been living in the Atlanta Sheraton for a few weeks, one of my co-workers invited me to go rafting. I was to drive to the store and pick up the beer. It was the first time I tried to start my car since arriving in Atlanta. The battery was dead. Immediately, I knew that this was my opportunity to turn down the invitation. Two verses kept coming to mind.

Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

Instead of taking this opportunity to decline their offer, we pushed the car out of the parking spot, and let it coast backwards down the parking deck. I popped the clutch, the car started and I turned the wheel backing into another spot. Instead of hitting the brake, I hit the gas. Thank God for the concrete pillar that stopped the car. It pushed one side of the bumper in and the other side out. Once again, the scripture came to mind.

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

When I pulled into the store parking lot to buy the beer, something distracted us. As I turned back I immediately reacted to something directly in front of my car. I barely missed hitting a man walking in front of my car. The same verse came to mind for the third time. I again quenched the Spirit’s prodding. During the rafting trip I was the “life of the party.” As we floated down the river, I would get the other rafters to tie their rafts to ours. Then I would walk from raft to raft. I even did back flips from the cliffs. At one point after jumping from the highest cliff, I remember the wind being knocked out of me as I ended up in a belly flop instead of a dive. I thought for sure I was going to die.

After I had lived in the hotel for about a month, management told me that it was time for me to find my own place to live. I looked at some apartments and found one for $500 per month. Because it was unfurnished, I next visited a large furniture store, located directly off the interstate. The realization hit me that this was probably my final opportunity to turn my life around! I sat down in one of the chairs in the store and began to pray. I knew that I was getting ready to make a commitment that would seal my fate for years to come. I had already ruined any potential testimony at Marriott on the rafting trip. During that party as well as others that followed, I was now the life of the party. Happy go lucky on the outside, but completely miserable inside. I did not look or act like a Christian, but I sure looked like I was having the time of my life. In order to sleep, I depended upon my gallon jug of wine each evening.

After spending a good bit of time in the furniture store, I remember thinking it odd that no one came to wait on me. I finally sat down in a recliner and prayed for the first time in what seemed like years. After a few more minutes, I simply got up and went across the street to a fast food restaurant. On a piece of paper, I wrote down the pros and cons of getting right with God. At some point during my prayer and contemplation, I knew what I had to do.

While in Pennsylvania, about once a year, Eddie Mills would call me to check on how I was doing. Although I was never completely honest with him, he continued to pray for me. When I returned to my hotel room that night, I called him and asked about the Bible college he was attending. He said, “Come on.” That evening, I packed all of my possessions into my car. The next morning, I quit my job—exercising my 72-hour option to cancel the lease on the apartment—and left for Alabama.

I arrived in Millbrook, Alabama on August 8, 1984. Immediately, I began taking correspondence Bible classes while waiting for the next semester to start. Things seemed to rapidly progress at this point. On September 16, 1984, I surrendered to the call of God to preach. I remember this particular invitation well because Chris Clayton had warned me of all those he had seen flop spiritually after surrendering to the call to preach. I was determined not to make the same mistake. However, this particular invitation seemed to be never ending. I began to literally grip the pew in front of me. I finally let loose and surrendered to preach.

The following month, Eddie Mills invited me to preach for him at Faith Rescue Mission in Montgomery. On October 6, 1984, I preached for the very first time at the Mission. After I finished, the direct or asked me to preach on the third Friday of every month thereafter. In addition to this opportunity, I also began a ministry at Cedar Crest Nursing Home, two Saturdays a month.

In January 1985, I began teaching fifth grade at Victory Baptist School. Looking back I can now see how all of this was in God’s master plan. I remember one time that I preached in chapel toward the end of the school year. I had just found out that my elderly neighbor while I was in college in Pennsylvania had committed suicide. She lived directly across the hall from me. She was a very sweet lady, but also very sad. I was haunted by that memory of knowing that she probably needed Christ. Instead of talking to her about the Lord, I simply kept my mouth shut. I was too backslidden to try; too far-gone to care. Despite my three years on the backside of the spiritual desert, God has blessed me beyond comprehension since returning to him in 1984.

• On November 21, 1987 I married Judy Ann McGhee
• In May 1988, I graduated from Open Bible College.
• On June 8, 1989 I became a CPA. (Same day as my dad’s birthday.)
• On August 8, 1992 we adopted our two children. Both were saved the following year.

During these years, I had been actively involved in preaching at numerous works. Although I was busy preaching at the Mission and the nursing home, I also began preaching at Autauga County Jail every Sunday morning before church. One ministry with many opportunities each week was the youth lock up programs. I preached each week in various places including the Selma Youth facility, Mt. Meigs Juvenile Detention facility and the Autauga County Hit program.

Later, the Mission became the focal point of much of my energies. In addition to the one evening a month, I began holding a Bible study every Thursday afternoon. In 1991, I began preaching every Sunday morning and evening at the Mission and Bible Baptist Church began meeting there. The same year I was asked to join the Board of Directors. I also began preaching at New Hope Farm every Friday evening. I later became president of Faith Rescue Mission and served in this capacity for over five years until my resignation in 2002.

I joined the staff of Victory Baptist Church in July 1995 after volunteering my services for six months. At that time, I relinquished almost all of my involvement in the other ministries with the exception of the Mission. Five years later, I resigned as Assistant Pastor after publishing my first book in order to follow God’s new call for me to travel, preach and teach.

Since that time, I have spent much time traveling and ministering to churches all over this country. The Lord has also blessed me with opportunities to be involved with international mission trips to Mexico, Venezuela, China and the Philippines. The Lord’s blessings are phenomenal. It never ceases to amaze me that I can travel into any state and most any country and meet others who will treat me as though we were lifelong friends. My life verse speaks of grace three times:

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Grace! The Bible clearly shows that everyone needs to experience the saving grace of God. But God’s grace does not cease at the moment of salvation. Every Christian needs to thank God, not only for His saving grace, but also His living grace. Thank you Lord for your saving and living grace.