The most wonderful thing in my life took place on Sunday Aug. 14, 1966 when I received Christ as my Lord and Savior. Words cannot describe how I felt when I walked out of the Community Baptist Church in Willard, Mo. on that day. It seemed like a thousand pounds had been lifted from my shoulders and the birds seemed to be singing “Amazing Grace”. I didn’t hear thunder or see lightning, but I knew a storm in my soul had ended and I had a peace unlike anything I had ever known. Then just two months and eight days later (Oct. 22) I surrendered to preach. Those two months were wonderful, but strange times. Everything was new, exciting and in some ways frighting.
Before I was saved I had stood in front of a mirror looking at myself and thinking, “There’s got to more to life than this. Surely I exist for some purpose”. After being saved I experienced a peace and joy unlike anything I’d ever known, but something still troubled me. I couldn’t help but wonder “What now? What does God want me to do?” After nearly every sermon from my pastor, regardless of the subject, I felt the need to pray and ask God for guidance. I asked the pastor if I could teach a Sunday School class and started teaching Jr. boys, driving the church bus, going on visitation twice a week, etc. but the desire to do more never went away.
Finally, as my wife and I prayed with my pastor and his wife, near midnight on Oct. 22, 1966 God made it clear to me that I was to preach His Word. I can’t explain how I felt that night, but I’ve never had any doubts about what God wanted me to do. But that’s not to say that I didn’t have questions. I couldn’t understand why God would call me to preach. I lacked knowledge, speaking ability and everything else needed to be a preacher. The only thing I had that was a positive was a strong God-given desire and a precious wife who was willing to stand by me and follow me.
I don’t have words to explain how ignorant of the Bible I was, but I was determined to learn–to learn as I was going and preaching what I learned– hoping no one asked questions about anything else. I don’t recommend that for others however. I can’t tell you how hard I studied over the next three years. I was working a full time job, involved in everything at church, studying every spare minute and preaching every chance I got. I quit hunting, fishing, playing ball, and watching TV. Meanwhile I preached at a rescue mission, pulpit supply, youth meetings and any place I could until a church called me as their pastor. I’ll never forget the first sermon I preached at the Fundamental Baptist Church in Pleasant Hope, Mo. I had been preaching for three years but never with such freedom as that day. I tremble just trying to describe it and it’s impossible to explain what God did in my spirit that day. It was like I was a different person, without making any effort to be different. I can’t explain it so I’ll just leave it at that.
Looking back I am amazed at the way God has opened doors, provided needs, and directed my steps throughout the years. To think that God could and would use someone like me is absolutely amazing. The how and why is something He alone can explain. The blessings are undeserved. They have been abundant and due to God’s grace alone. I could talk for hours about the personal experiences and for good reason, but it hasn’t been a solo journey. From beginning to end my wife has been my biggest supporter and best helper. Now after fifty years she is right where she has always been–at my side and helping every step of the way. She is deserving of far more than I could ever give her and I love her more than life itself.
While I would like to say much more, I’ll end by saying I thank God not only for my wife but for all those who have helped in various ways. They have made the journey a joy, a blessing rather than a burden and I am grateful for each and every one of them. Now as I enter my 30th year at Lakeway Baptist Church, I have no idea when it will end, I just want to live each day feeling as Paul did when he said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain“.(Phil. 1:21) –HDS, 10/22/16