All sin is rebellion against God’s righteous and reasonable commands. All sin is foolish. I became a rebel and a fool at a time in my life when I had many blessings from the Lord. As I noted in my last two posts, He had given me the headmastership of a Christian school and had shown me a Biblical way of educating. Yet I decided to be a fool just when He was giving my life its real meaning.
Too many personal testimonies of God’s grace dwell on the sins. I know it’s important to make it clear how thoroughly the Lord can deliver a person from sin, but I’m concerned that the sin not get all the attention. I’m not going to detail my particular sins; suffice it to say I became ungrateful and resentful toward God. It was stupid on my part, and I freely admit that now. When I think back on that period of my life, it still hurts. If not for God’s mercy and grace . . .
It was while I was in rebellion that I left the Christian school and forged ahead with my master’s and doctorate. I didn’t know if this was God’s will, but that was beside the point; I was running my own life without Him. I had left the Lord behind. Fortunately, He hadn’t given up on me.
I had high hopes that advanced degrees would give my life meaning. I blitzed through my master’s program in one year, thesis and all, at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Then I was accepted into the doctoral program at American University in Washington, DC. In two years, I had finished all my coursework, had taken my comprehensive exams, and had my dissertation proposal approved. I was on the fast track. American even proved the conduit for getting an internship in the history office of the United States Supreme Court. By all outward appearances, I was succeeding in carrying out my plan. Inwardly, though, I was suffering.
Those three years of higher education gave me a lot of information, but I came to realize that my professors didn’t exactly have the answers for life. I couldn’t honestly say any of them were role models. They had knowledge, but lacked real understanding and wisdom. You see, all that I had learned in the Principle Approach refused to disappear. God was using that infusion of Biblical principles to call me back to Him.
I was tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. Spiritual dryness, of my own making, created a new hunger and thirst for reality. Somewhere along the way on this return to sanity a passage of Scripture practically leaped out at me. It stared at me from the book of Ecclesiastes, and it said:
The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
Those words stunned me. This was exactly what I had been attempting to do—devote myself to books and study, seeking meaning in them. The passage reminded me forcefully that the bottom line in life is to reverence and obey God.
Slowly, I made the trek back, hoping the Lord would forgive my wandering; but I wasn’t sure. In late 1988, I received some assurance that He wasn’t done with me yet. Regent University called and asked if I could teach as an adjunct. I joyfully accepted because this seemed to be a pathway back to where God had wanted me originally. Yet He wasn’t done with His assurances.
Regent was about a three-hour drive from our home in northern Virginia; I drove down there once a week to teach for two days. I would fill the time listening to Christian music. On one of those drives, in early January 1989, the song “It Is Well with My Soul” played on my tape. I was paying close attention to the words of the second verse:
My sin, oh the joy of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul.
Immediately, as those words ended, a voice—not audible in the sense that anyone sitting next to me would have heard it—a voice within me, distinctly spoke to my mind and said, “That’s for you!” The voice was strong, yet gracious and comforting. I knew I had not manufactured it; God had done something very wonderful in that moment. He had taken time out of His management of the entire universe to speak to a repentant wretch who hadn’t yet had the deep assurance that he had been forgiven for his waywardness. In what I will always refer to as “The Moment,” I knew I was forgiven. I had trouble keeping the car in my lane on I-95 for a few seconds as I experienced a weeping that combined joy and deep regret over the past.
I know there are some readers who won’t believe this account, or who will conclude I am deluded. I can’t help that. All I know is that it happened. It was as real as anything I’ve ever experienced, and I now knew something for sure:
God had given me a second chance. He had confirmed the teaching ministry He had given years earlier. I now had to carry it out His way and do it for Him.
More on Monday.