Biblearc PATH Courses: Certificates of Completion

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“My One-Word” for 2022: INCREASE


Since 2015, I have made it a practice to adopt and practice what I call “My One-Word Resolution.” Instead of trying to remember and implement a number of resolutions – which all too often I can’t even keep them in mind, much less apply myself to practice them – I distill my strongest aspirations into “My One-Word.” Inevitably, the other resolutions I want to make and practice will grow and flow from it anyway.  

You can find my story about how I discovered and learned this spiritual exercise here.

[Or you can read the full text of these posts here.]

The “My One-Word” resolutions I have strived to practice and grow into are:

2015 – REST

2016 – DELIGHT

2017 – FOLLOW

2018 – ABIDE

2019 – CONQUER

2020 – CONQUER / ‘LOVE’

2021 – CONQUER / ‘FIGHT’


Here in 2022, “My One-Word” is “INCREASE.”

As always, “My One-Word” grows from convictions and aspirations that are inspired by the Word of God. Certain Scriptures, even more so than all the others [2 Timothy 3.14-17], will grip me with the burden that “I must focus on this/these.”

The word “increase” will be expressed also ‘in other words’ like:

  • grow [up]
  • progress [both noun and verb]
  • make every effort to supplement
  • flourish
  • still bear fruit in old age
  • ever full of sap and green
  • bear fruit / more fruit / much fruit
  • increase
  • abound
  • more and more

You get the idea. Every one of these words inspires me to keep growing and increasing in the life and service of Jesus Christ. To improve more and more.

I will turn 71 years old here in a few weeks. The Lord has led and transitioned my life and ministry into new venues, roles, and ministries that are in many ways different than those I have pursued in previous years. I know also that, given the normal life actuaries, I’m fulfilling the finishing stretches of my course.

But rather than accepting my age and stage in life as an excuse to relax, let up, slack off, coast, or ‘decrease’ in my service for our Lord, I not only want to just complete my life course and finish well, I want to ‘increase’ in my usefulness to Christ and my effectiveness in ministering to others in whatever ways He will be pleased to assign to me and privilege me to fulfill.

In other words, I not only want to finish well, I want to finish strong! Wherever and whenever my ‘finish line’ is, I want to stretch every remaining nerve and muscle and reach that finishing line knowing that I have maximized every grace, every gift, every opportunity Christ is pleased to allow me to exercise. I don’t want to stop growing. I want to continue to ‘increase’ until I die and can do no more here.

All of these variations of ‘increase’ will be found in the words of the anchor Scriptures I have noted here. I will also commit these Scriptures to memory. These ‘increase’ Scriptures will also express just some of the primary exercises and activities of my life and ministry that I want to ‘increase.’ These anchor Scriptures are not in any particular order either of attention or application; rather they will all complement and coordinate with each other as I seek to pursue them.

All of these resolutions will in some way interface with ‘increase.’ ‘Increase’ will serve as a kind of hub of the wheel of my life as I want to live it over 2022, and the other resolutions will serve as the spokes to give my life direction, movement, and strength.

This will be my keynote and watchword:

“For if I these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” / 2 Peter 1.8

Here then are a few of my challenging, motivating, encouraging, and guiding Scriptures with the ‘Increase’ resolutions that they inspire me to reach for and fulfill…

INCREASE in my love for the Word of God – nurtured to savor and enjoy Christ more!

1 Peter 2.2-3: Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the LORD is good.

RESOLVED: I will increase to love the Word of God more passionately, study it more deeply, and  search for Christ more intently!

INCREASE in the amazing grace of knowing Christ!

2 Peter 3.18: But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

RESOLVED: I will continually increase in the knowledge of Christ by the grace of Christ as much as I can here and now … and as long as I live! This amazing grace of knowing Christ [eternal life / John 17.1-3] calls and allows for unlimited and continuous increase and eternal growth … because He is! This will be the vocation of Heaven forever.

INCREASE in every grace of personal character and Christ-likeness!

2 Peter 1.5-11: For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if I these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

RESOLVED: I will develop, cultivate, and practice the daily habits and personal disciplines [‘make every effort to supplement’] that are necessary to increase in all these graces of Christ!

INCREASE in the cultivation, use, and exercise of the gifts Christ has given me!

1 Timothy 4.14-16: Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

RESOLVED: I will increase my pursuit and use of all the learning opportunities, tools, and resources that are available to me to cultivate, develop, and apply my understanding and ministry of the Word of God and the Gospel! [This will follow up and continue with some ‘continuing education/training’ courses I have started in 2021]

INCREASE in my worship, service, and usefulness to Christ – especially in my local church!

Psalm 92.12-14: The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, 15 to declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

RESOLVED: I will increase in giving myself to every opportunity to serve Christ, witnessing to His faithfulness, and encouraging my fellow brothers and sisters in the fellowship and community of my local church – especially to those who may be my peers in sharing the treasures and trials of these ‘golden’ years of our lives!  

INCREASE in my loving and following Christ in ministering to others – wherever, whatever, and to whomever this ministry may be!

John 21.16-18: Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to Him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”

RESOLVED: I will increase in my ministering to others regardless of the time, place, or circumstances where Christ may lead me, place me, and give me opportunity to serve. When Christ says, “You…follow me!” – I will … more and more!

INCREASE in the holiness of love for God and others!

1 Thessalonians 3.11-13: Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.

RESOLVED: I will increase in all my expressions of holiness by my love from my heart and in my actions toward all! This will call me to increase in patience, forbearance, forgiveness, sympathies, encouragements, and hospitality toward all!  

INCREASE ‘more and more’ in pleasing God!

1 Thessalonians 4.1: Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.

Verse 10… for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.

RESOLVED: I will increase my intentional sensitivity and willingness to test every thought, word, and action by this rule: “Does it please God?” “Does this represent Christ well?”!

INCREASE in my evidences of discipleship after Christ: fruit, more fruit, much fruit!

John 15.1-8: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruitAlready you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

RESOLVED: I will increase in my commitment to abide in Christ, bear the fruit of His in-dwelling life being lived out through me, and doing all that I do in prayerful dependence upon and obedience to Him.

INCREASE in confidence, contentment, and thanksgiving in Christ!

Colossians 2.6-7: Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

RESOLVED: I will ‘decrease’ in my discontentment and complaining and increase in my faith and confidence in Christ to grow and abound in all these resolutions. I will increase also in my thanksgivings to Him for the will and strength to faithfully continue and grow.

I repeat:

“For if I these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” / 2 Peter 1.8

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PHILEMON: The Gospel of Redemption, Reconciliation, Restoration

In a day when there is so much conflict, division, and brokenness in all our relationships with one another, Paul’s personal appeal to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus still rings so true as a guide and model for redemption, reconciliation, and restoration.

He didn’t attempt to re-engineer, re-tool, or re-package the Gospel. He just called on Philemon to live out and act out the Gospel as he had received and learned it from Paul / verse 19.

Paul appeals to THE GOSPEL, not only in his instructions to Philemon, but also in his very advocacy for Onesimus. Paul directs Philemon’s attention to the Gospel they both believed and preached [verses 1, 17], and he also embodies the Gospel in himself as he exhorts Philemon:

“So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it…” / verses 17-19

THAT is the Gospel of what God has done for us IN CHRIST! [see Colossians 2.13-15]

And not only did Paul know that the Gospel would instruct Philemon in what he should do [verse 8], but he also had the confidence that the same Gospel would work the will and response in Philemon’s heart to respond by the power the Gospel supplies:

“Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” / verse 21

As Paul wrote in the accompanying letter of Colossians, the Gospel is the message and the means that God has given us to redeem, reconcile, and restore us all to the image of the ‘new man’ that Christ has created us to be…

“[seeing you] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; BUT CHRIST IS ALL, AND IN ALL!” / Colossians 3.10-11

Here are the Lesson Notes to a study of Philemon that we conducted in our church’s Sunday School.

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“Thank you for another year of sharing God’s Word and leading us to hunger for the Word of God!”

19 December 2021

My Christian Brothers & Sisters [CBS] Sunday School class presented me with this card and message at the conclusion of our Sunday School lesson:

“…Thank you for another year of sharing God’s Word and leading us to hunger for His Word.”

I could not receive a sweeter, richer, more rewarding and fulfilling “Thank You!” than this one.

I want this to be my lasting remembrance and legacy.

This is what I live and serve Christ to do.

This is the way I want to be remembered.

This is the legacy I want to leave with those to whom God has privileged me to minister.

This is the influence I want to have and the mark I want to leave in people’s lives.

I’m not leaving instructions for someone to carve this in my grave marker, but it would do!

As John the Baptist said when his disciples turned to follow Jesus whom He announced and to whom he had pointed them, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” / John 3.29.

There was another more material gift that accompanied this note, but it is our mutual loving, learning, treasuring, and savoring of the Word of Christ that is the heartbeat and joy of our weekly fellowship.

They so refresh my spirit!

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God’s Clear Call to Holiness & Sexual Purity

Over the course of the past year, I have been engaged in some courses offered through, developed under the auspices of Bethlehem College and Seminary.

Biblearc is a web-based source for Bible study tools and instruction designed to instruct and train students of the Scriptures to read, study, interpret, apply, and present the Word of God.

Various ‘modes’ or tools are imbedded in the program and employed by the instructors to guide the students to understand, teach, and apply the Scriptures as we seek especially and most of all to seek and savor Christ in His Word.

Most of the courses are ten lessons, self-directed, and can be taken lesson by lesson at the discretion and availability of the student. Others are ‘live’ and are followed on a schedule that is set at the times they are presented. All of the lessons are guided and critiqued by Pastors who offer their personal instruction and encouragement every step of the way.

I have completed the second of these courses – this one is their course on PARAPHRASE. The last lesson assignment was to post a Published Page on their website from a passage in 1 Thessalonians, the Scripture we used throughout the course to practice and apply the Bible study methods and tools we were learning to use.

I chose 1 Thessalonians 4.1-8 as my assignment passage: God’s Clear Call to Holiness and Sexual Purity. Here is a link to that assignment. The page is interactive – that is, if you open the page, you can not only see the modes in which I wrote my paraphrase of the selected text, but you can also open the ‘dot notes’ in which I wrote observations, cross-references, and truths that are taught in that particular verse or word.

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COLOSSIANS: Lesson Notes / Talking Points


Here are the Lesson Notes/talking Points for the studies we have conducted in our Sunday School class from Colossians. There are five sets of Lesson Notes in this one composite paper. I have kept the Scripture text passages and lesson titles that were in our Lifeway Explore the Bible personal study guides to aid our class members to keep in sync with their scheduled study guides. However, the Lesson Notes are from my own personal study and presentation. Also, these Lesson Notes are not intended to be structured outlines or detailed commentary. Rather, they are as we call them: Talking Points. They are topics, subjects, truths, applications, and takeaways that we intend to discuss, learn, and practice in our lives from our study of the Scripture texts.

The themes we emphasized throughout our study of Colossians are the same themes that Paul was presenting and pressing on them: CHRIST’S SOVEREIGNTY, SUPREMACY, AND SUFFICIENCY.

I offer them now to you with my prayer and my hope that God will be pleased to use them for your edification and “that in everything He might be preeminent” / Colossians 1.18.

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RUTH: Searching for Christ in the Book of Ruth


Lesson Notes: Lessons 1-6

You will find here the Lesson Notes for the 6-part study we conducted in our Sunday School class on the book of Ruth.

As the course title states, this is not intended to be a detailed study of this precious and prescient short story. Volumes have been written about the events that transpired in this story, explanations of the Scriptural, historical, and cultural practices that are acted out in this story, and the prophetic significances of the redemptive pre-enactments that the characters lived out in their actions – all of which were sovereignly superintended by God’s redemptive purpose and plan and pointed to Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

I am not capable, nor was it my purpose, to reproduce those studies. Think of these Lesson Study Notes more as “talking points” to guide us through the reading and discussion of these lessons. All of these “talking points” opened up much more explanation and discussion of the exciting truths that are written here in this Romance of Redemption.

As I have reminded our class repeatedly, these lessons are not intended to be structured lessons or studies. Rather they are prepared and presented to help us all better learn how to read our Bibles on a daily basis and search for and find Jesus Christ there. After all, the Bible is “God’s Story about His Son, Jesus Christ, to us” and Jesus Himself declared that they ALL testify to Him [see John 5.37-40 & Luke 24.25-27, 44-48].

So what we want to do is better learn how we should read, study, understand, and most of all, worship Jesus Christ as He is promised, prophesied, and pre-enacted in the Old Testament Scriptures.   

I use the word “pre-enactment” a lot in our Sunday School lessons especially when we are studying from the Old Testament Scriptures because that is what the whole OT is: it is a pre-enactment of the Redeemer God would send us “when the fullness of time had come” [see 1 Peter 1.10-12 & Galatians 4.4]. This Book of Ruth is rich and replete with such pre-enactments.

So I’m making them available to you with the prayer and hope that as we read the Word of God together, we’ll hear the echoes and invitation of Philip’s question to the Ethiopian eunuch, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  When the Ethiopian answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” … “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the Good News about Jesus” [see Acts 8.26-35].

I did use three resources in particular to enrich my own understanding and help me prepare to present these lessons to our class. Each of them was extremely helpful to me in distinctive ways:

Christopher Ash, Teaching Ruth & Esther

Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth [The New American Commentary]

Sinclair B. Ferguson, Faithful God

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“…set apart and ordained to the work of THE GOSPEL MINISTRY…”


We, the undersigned, hereby certify that

upon the recommendation and request of


which had full and sufficient opportunity for judging his gifts,

and after satisfactory examination by us in regard to his Christian experience,

call to the ministry, and views of Bible doctrine,


was solemnly and publicly set apart and ordained to the work of


by the authority and order of

the HILLCREST BAPTIST CHURCH at Winston-Salem, North Carolina

on the Twenty-seventh day of August, 1973.

(signed) E. W. Parks, Pastor


E. W. Parks, Pastor of Ordaining Church

Harry J. Simms, Moderator of Ordaining Council

L. Leroy Pack, Clerk of Ordaining Council

Herbert H. Wilson

Thomas D. Flynn

Roger Lackey

H. Rondell Rumburg

Charles C. Vogler

Brant H. Seacrest

T. B. Freeman (who preached the Pastoral Charge)

Donald S. Fortner

I. (Irvin) L. Wallace

B. (Bill) E. James, Jr.

[Note: of these 13 pastors who comprised this Ordaining Council, 10 are now with the Lord]

27 August 1973 – One of the most solemn, significant, and memorable days of my life.

A host of the members and friends from Berea Baptist Church had driven the 50 or so miles to attend and participate in this service. They had called me to be their pastor a little over a month before, 4 July 1973, and had requested my ordination by my home church, Hillcrest Baptist Church. I was only 22 years old, and this was my first pastorate. They were and are a most gracious people, though most of them who were in attendance that night are also with our Lord. Those who are still living remain among my sweetest and dearest friends.

The service lasted over two hours. We convened that Monday evening around 7 pm as best I can remember.

Harry J. Simms was the Moderator of the Ordaining Council. He was a most influential man to all of us in our family. “Preacher” Simms was my immediate predecessor-pastor at Berea church. He was the one who had introduced me to them by inviting me on a number of occasions to preach in his absence. [I also have vivid memories of the first message I preached at Berea. It was from Psalm 11.1-7, God’s Immovable Foundations. That was 6.6.71. I’ll tell that story another day…] Preacher Simms was also my Dad’s primary mentor and friend from the beginning of his ministry. Shortly after the Lord saved my Dad, he became acquainted with Preacher Simms. They began to talk and study the Scriptures together regularly. Preacher Simms discipled Dad and taught him the doctrines of the Word of God. As a consequence, Dad confessed and identified with Baptist teachings. When Dad started conducting Sunday afternoon services in a small church building on Goldfloss Street [this was in Winston-Salem NC] that had been vacated when the former church relocated, he invited Preacher Simms over to preach in those services. After a few months, Preacher Simms told Dad that he needed to start preaching in his own services. He led in my Dad’s ordination also. That was around 1949 – 24 years before this time of my own ordination.

For my ordination service that night, they had set up a small table on the pulpit platform of Hillcrest Baptist Church. [This was in the small auditorium in the original building…it is now their fellowship hall.] It was barely big enough for the two of us – Preacher Simms and me – to sit around. Our faces were probably not three feet apart. Keep in mind that this was August 1973. The Nixon-era Watergate hearings had been televised for several weeks back during May-June. So as we took our places around this little table for my interrogation and examination, Preacher Simms looked at me and quipped, “Kind of feels like Watergate, doesn’t it?” But he also assured me that the purpose and spirit would be more kind than those hearings were. So for the next 1 ½ hours, he and the other members of the ordination council asked me questions about my salvation testimony, my call to preach the Gospel, my doctrinal beliefs, how I intended to shepherd and lead the flock of God, and my commitment to be faithful to Jesus Christ and the Word of God. It was a detailed and thorough examination.

T. B. Freeman delivered the Pastoral Charge. Brother Freeman also had been associated with our family and a part of my life for as far back as I could remember. He was originally from Bristol TN but had re-settled in Mims/Titusville FL where he also pastored. Brother Freeman was an evangelist and revivalist. He travelled extensively among churches in many states preaching revival and protracted meetings. He was a godly, humble, Spirit-filled man of God. More than anything else, T. B. Freeman was a man of fervent and passionate prayer. My Dad had invited him on numerous occasions to come to the churches he was pastoring and preach revival meetings. He was like another father-figure to me. I respected and admired him immensely. So I asked that he be invited to come and preach my Pastoral Charge to me. He would later invite me to come to the churches he pastored and preach in revival meetings.

And then, of course, my Dad. Dad had been my Father, my Pastor, and my primary teacher, trainer, and role model from the beginning of my life. Even before the Lord saved me and called me by His Grace to preach His Gospel, I still had always wanted to be a preacher … because Dad was a preacher, and I wanted to be like him. Dad delivered the final charge to me to be faithful to Christ and to give myself and my life totally to serve Him. My Dad had modeled that charge for me to emulate and imitate. He then presented me with my ordination Bible [which, of course, I still have right here…].

The other ten preachers on the ordination council were either preachers in the Hillcrest church or pastors of other churches with whom we fellowshipped. Looking back over those names, I had preached at some time or another in all of their churches. All of them were brothers in ministry who had encouraged and helped develop me, and I was blessed by God to have been influenced by them in so many ways.

I think back on that night and that service very often. That occasion – the purpose of it and the commitments I made – still grips me and convicts me. I hope and pray to God that I have been faithful to the stewardship that has been entrusted to me, and I want to continue to be faithful to Christ who called and appointed me to this ministry until my appointed end – and I stand before Him to give account.

It’s coming back to me again in power on this anniversary day.

And with whatever remaining life and time of service God may be pleased to grant me, I still commit to this charge:

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Gospel of the Grace of God” ~Acts 20.24      

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Treasure in jars of clay

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay,

to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” ~2 Corinthians 4.7

Here is our Pastor Hershael York’s message from 2 Corinthians 4.7-18, The Paradox of the Christian Life.

All of his messages are delivered to us from the Word of God with clarity, conviction, integrity, and passion – “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2.1-5). They are all challenging, convicting, and confirming – all at the same time.

But this one is so very personal to me. If ever I have had a ‘life verse’ [as is so common to have] that summarizes and defines my experience as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a minister of the Gospel, it is 2 Corinthians 4.7.

In fact, in a very real sense, it has been my “signature” verse. For all of my life over the past 50 years, I have signed “2 Cor 4.7” along with my name because it so tells my life story.

My very best friend from our very first day of Bible College, Jim Park, gave me this NASB back around 1972. “II Cor 4:7” was already imbedded into my experiences and conversations with those closest to me.

God began crushing me 50 years ago to the point that I thought He was taking my future ministry of preaching away from me. I despaired that I had any future in Gospel ministry.

I had never wanted to do anything else. I had never prepared to do anything else.

I was just getting started, and I thought I had already slammed into an impassable dead-end. I had just begun my ascent, and I was already in an irrecoverable tailspin, ingloriously crashing and burning.

In fact, I told my Dad during that season [I was still living at home at the time], “Dad, please don’t ask me to preach again. I can’t do it anymore.”

I was kind of the “rising young star” among the younger generation of preachers in our particular circles and fellowships of churches. I was beginning to receive invitations from pastors we knew to preach in their churches, at their events, fulfill pulpit supply for them, preach in revival meetings, etc.

But all that prospect of future ministry hung precariously in the balance … quivering and ready to tip to the “dread” side. It was like I had just walked out on the stage of ministry, but all of a sudden, the curtains were descending and all the lights were going dark.  

And [to run ahead of my story just a bit…] I am convinced of this as much as anything: as I pondered these dark experiences and cried out to God “What are You doing? What is going on with me? What am I supposed to learn from all this?” [as in 2 Corinthians 12.7-9] – it became obvious to me that God was, indeed, taking my ministry from me so He could give it back to me again with the understanding that He is the Potter, I am the clay.

{A personal aside:

as I have evaluated these experiences over the past decades, I have come to the conclusion – at least for me – that God will not give me a signal gift, blessing, or privilege to enjoy and exercise for His Glory without somehow, somewhere along the way taking it from me and then giving it back under the terms of His gracious Lordship (2 Timothy 2.20-21; 1 Peter 4.10-11). I have no idea how He is pleased to deal with you or any of the others of His faithful servants. I have no empirical or anecdotal witnesses to cite. I just know that any time I have ever referred to Abraham’s test in Genesis 22, or Jacob’s in Genesis 32, or Paul’s in 2 Corinthians 12, I have at least alluded to this personal principal in my own ministry. “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103.14), and He can blow or kick our dust at His pleasure when we need to be reminded that our dust is His making and He has framed us for His Glory – not to seek great things for ourselves (Jeremiah 45.5)…}

He had begun to pound me, break me, crush me so He could re-make me to be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the Master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2.21).

He was willing to allow me the privilege to serve Him, but I must surrender to His terms. He was making me willing in the day of His power.

I vividly remember the crisis watershed occasion and the specific message I was preaching when this crisis experience took place. I’m looking at the notes to that message right now. [Yes, I still have pretty much every sermon outline and message notes I have ever used.] It is dated 4.11.71.

I was just barely 20 years old.

That Sunday morning was Easter Sunday morning 1971. I had prepared the message from 2 Corinthians 5.14-21, “Life with the Living Lord.”

But from that Sunday morning, God began to crush me with what I can only best describe as a total ‘nervous breakdown / emotional, psychological meltdown’ to the point that I was terrified at the prospect of standing in front of people to speak – what could be called ‘stage fright,’ I guess.

I suffered panic attacks, high anxiety, hyperventilation to the point of having sudden rushes of adrenalin, becoming mentally disoriented, feeling almost detached from myself and ‘out of body,’ sweaty, and breathless. It was more than just mere nervousness or jitters. It was total, abject, paralyzing, debilitating fear … terror. And it was all triggered by the very thought of standing before others to speak.

I still continued to preach as I received invitations [and I was receiving more and more invitations to preach at this time], but I lived in this paralyzing terror that I wouldn’t be able to speak when I got up and opened my mouth to do so. That I would get up to speak, but that when I opened my mouth, my voice wouldn’t come out.

I even got to the point that I would prepare my preaching notes, but I wouldn’t put the date on it, because I didn’t know whether I would be able to speak to deliver it. I would insert the date after I had, in fact, delivered the message.

What was even more distressing and disconcerting about this whole experience is that I had no idea what was happening to me. At that time of my life, I had never heard of ‘panic/anxiety attack.’ As far as I was concerned, this had never happened to anyone else before, and I was the only one who had ever experienced this kind of breakdown.

I told no one. I honestly thought that no one would understand what I was experiencing – that they wouldn’t know what I was trying to describe. Also I was afraid to even acknowledge that this sort of thing was happening to me at all. I couldn’t deny it was happening, but I thought that if I didn’t acknowledge it, it might just go away, or at least I would be able to manage and survive it. I was also afraid that if I acknowledged it, that it would spiral totally out of control and completely, totally consume me.

And I didn’t tell anyone about these experiences for probably 25-30 years afterwards. When I did relate some of these experiences, it was only to individual persons who were struggling with the same anxiety for the purpose of helping them, encouraging them, and giving them hope.

I have never been as publicly transparent and open with this testimony as I am now.

These seasons of suffering this kind of fear, high anxiety, and panic attacks would go on for months on end at a time. They would be accompanied by bouts of deep depression, mainly just from the mental and emotional stress of constantly dreading and being in terror at the prospects of preaching again [which I still was], and also from the possibilities that my future ministry was being taken from me.

I couldn’t see any prospects that it would ever be any different than this. And I couldn’t bear the thought that maybe I was going to suffer this fear and anxiety for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to entertain the prospects of that future. I didn’t even want to live with that kind of future.

I am thankful to God that He began to teach me what He purposed for me to learn from these experiences. It was at that time, very early on in these experiences, that God led me to 2 Corinthians, and especially to chapter 4, verse 7. As I learned it in the Authorized Version,

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”

I had no doubt from the very beginning that God was dealing with my pride. My pride, self-confidence, and all seeking of any recognition, glory, and praise for myself must be crushed. And crushed, it was. It has to be if I am going to be God’s preacher. And I did want to be God’s preacher.

The ‘excellency of the power’ or ‘the surpassing power’ belongs to God and is given and ministered through us by God in the moment when it is used. The ‘treasure’ that God has entrusted to us is His Son and His Gospel – what Paul describes in chapter 3, verse 18 as “the glory of Christ,” and later in chapter 5 as the ministry and message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.11-21).

God entrusts this glorious Treasure to us, as clay jars, so that when His power is ministered to others through us, we will know that it is Him and His power – and not from us. We need to know, and we will have to learn, that as ‘jars of clay,’ we are weak, fragile, brittle, and broken. If we don’t know that sufficiently, then God will proceed to break and crush us until we do.

But when He does crush us, then we learn to cast ourselves helplessly and hopefully upon Him to work and minister the Glory of Christ through us to others. God continuously works death in our fleshly bodies through our afflictions so that He can clear the channels so His Life can flow through us to others.

So, going back to 1971… This initial season of crushing didn’t last forever. It did go on for a long time from then – maybe as long as two years. But God was teaching me to commit my ministry to Him for His use, His Glory, His pleasure. And He would supply the strength I needed to fulfill His calling and assignment.

2 Corinthians 4.7 was becoming my life’s and ministry’s “user guide.” It was the protocols by which I learned to function. It became my very signature.

In the ensuing years, there have been seasons when it would return. The fear, the anxiety, the panic, the depression – sometimes it would come back on me. I have cycled in and out of it for seasons at a time. But there is something loving that is going on even in those times. It is a Hebrews 12 kind of season. My Heavenly Father is exercising His loving discipline to train me more completely, develop me more fully, and share His Holiness with me. And as He promises, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12.11).

There is an inexplicable and unique kind of intimacy with the Father that grows and is cultivated to ‘the peaceable fruit of righteousness’ during those seasons. And maybe, just maybe, it can’t be experienced and enjoyed apart from them.

It is like my Father has to touch me every now and then with His heavy finger of love to remind me, “Son, remember, it’s not about you – it’s about the Glory of Christ. You belong to Me. You are My chosen vessel, and I will be pleased to use you; but I will use you My way. You’re not sufficient for any of this – but My Grace is always sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in your weakness.”

To which I can only reply: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses … For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12.7-10).

In that same message from Pastor York that I referenced at the head of this testimony, he quoted from Amy Carmichael a poem I had never heard before. I instantly identified with it and related to it.

Hast Thou No Scar | by Amy Carmichael

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who has no wound nor scar?

Yes, I do. I have some wounds, some scars. They are the cracks and brokennesses in my jar of clay so the Glory of Jesus can shine through me – “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

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That’s what she looks like to me!

She’s the brightness of sunshine;

she’s the whiteness of snow;

she’s the pureness of a dove flying free!

she’s the romance of moonlight;

she’s the freshness of dew;

Ah, that’s what she looks like to me!

She’s the splendor of dawning;

she’s the glory of noon;

she’s the sunset reflected on the sea!

she’s the colors of a rainbow;

she’s the softness of clouds;

Ah, that’s what she looks like to me!

She’s the harvest of autumn;

she’s the new life of spring;

she’s the fullness of summer’s green trees!

she’s the quiet strength of winter;

She’s my Joy! She’s my Life!

She’s all my world to me!

~dsp 9/25/75

Debbie and I were engaged to be married in the Fall of 1975. (We would be married in June 1976.)

Back in those days, we had to do whatever ‘courting’ we could do over 400 miles.

I was pastoring in Alexander County/Hiddenite NC and she was living in Lexington KY. So, I would travel to Lexington every opportunity I could find (or make up), and she would occasionally come to NC.

I was living in the parsonage of the church I was pastoring, so she would stay with our dear friends, Pastor Jim and Shirley Park. Jim was my very closest friend from Bible College days, and he pastored in nearby Statesville NC, probably 15 miles from Hiddenite.

Jim and Shirley had a young son, Bradley. I guess Bradley was pre-school age. Bradley was excited about Debbie’s coming to visit with me and stay with them for the first time.

So he asked me one day: “What does she look like?” So what do you tell a 4-5 years-old what someone else looks like?

I began to describe the best I could what he could expect to see in her physical features when he first saw her.

That’s when I began to think about what she looks like to me – her virtue, her character, her outer and inner beauties.

I wrote this little song to express just some of my admiration, adoration, and love for all the beauty I saw in her. And my smitten admiration only continues to grow and increase.

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