I’ll never forget the night 32 years ago I first met Gene and Gwen Spence (their real names – they wouldn’t have it any other way).
I was the new lead pastor at a small, rural church in SE Alabama. I was teaching on Wednesday nights through the Biblical doctrines of our denomination. Ten minutes into my lesson a couple came in and sat down. Still new enough not to have met everyone, I assumed they were part of the church.
That Wednesday night I was teaching our denomination’s doctrine of soteriology, or salvation.
I quote: “Man’s only hope of redemption is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Salvation is received through repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, being justified by grace through faith, man becomes an heir of God according to the hope of eternal life.The inward evidence of salvation is the direct witness of the Spirit. The outward evidence to all men is a life of righteousness and true holiness.”
I explained it as best I could, sharing my own personal journey from atheist to Christ as an example. All in all, a very fine hour, as far as I was concerned. I met the Spence’s after the service, noting their strange quietness (maybe they’d had a fight on the way to church?) and finding out this was their first visit to our church. I dutifully had them fill out a visitor’s card and of course invited them to be with us Sunday, briefly fellowshipped with other congregants, and got out of Dodge.
At home, I slipped out of my church clothes and settled into my Lazyboy to watch the 10 pm news.
My doorbell rang. After cinching my bathrobe up tight (and feeling exasperated at the late night interruption), I opened the door. There stood Gene and Gwen Spence.
Seeing they were upset (both were crying), I invited them in.
“Whats going on, guys? How can I help?”, I asked, as I seated them at my dining room table.
Gene said, “Tonight was our first time back in a church in a number of years. Brother Pool, Gwen and I are both backsliders.” She nodded in agreement. “We’ve seen your church sign on the highway and nearly came to a service more times than we can count. It seems so inviting.”
(The sign? It’s a gorgeous picture of a beautiful lighthouse, with special lighting at night that highlights rays of light shooting out into the fog. Church name: Lighthouse Assembly of God.)
Gene continued, “Brother Pool, you so wonderfully explained the doctrine of salvation. God used your lesson to stir our hearts, and then the service was suddenly over and everyone went home. We wanted you to offer us an opportunity to get things right with God. We asked one of your members where you lived, and, well…, here we are.
Could you help us get right with God?”
I was the proverbial calf looking at a new gate.
Stunned. Almost in shock. How could I have missed this?
I pulled out my Bible and turned to Romans 3, then 6, and finally 10. The Roman Road.
Christ was faithful that night to both a “backslid” couple and a wet-behind-the-ears young pastor. Jesus literally stepped out of the pages of that Bible and became new life and a new hope for Gene and Gwen Spence. Just as he had done 10 years previous to a 19 year old atheist, in another dining room, as a godly man read to him from Paul’s letter to the Romans.
My takeaway that night? If you traffic in the word of God, be prepared for it to work in the lives of those who hear it. I think that’s in the Bible somewhere…
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).