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Friday, December 19, 2008

Coming out of darkness into the light!

The next morning (November 20th, 1981), the statement that had rung in my mind the night before continued to reverberate in my thoughts. As I worked on the assembly line in the factory that morning, I knew I must face the truth…
-While I’d spoken with fellow workers about having been a missionary in the West Indies, and of my confidence in the Bible etc, I had never had the courage to simply bow my head and give thanks for my food before the others in the cafeteria!
-While I’d faithfully read the Bible with my family and studied it for hours to prepare to preach or teach it to others, I didn’t know what it was to simply sit down with the Word of God to enjoy it as the food for my own soul!
-While I’d given thanks for our food at our table for years, lead in prayer during family devotions and often prayed in assembly meetings, I knew nothing of private and personal communion with God in prayer!
I began to see clearly that the Lord Jesus’ description of the scribes and Pharisees was an
accurate description of myself, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:27

Now, since I had no “position” above or over anyone else in the assembly, the fear of man and my own pride could no longer hold me in bondage. So I purposed to go home that night and tell
my wife, Judy, the truth about myself. So after supper , I sat Judy down at the kitchen table and told her that I had come to the conclusion that while I’d learned to go through all the religious motions, I’d never truly been saved!
At first, Judy was incredulous – How could she have married an unsaved man??! But as the seriousness of the matter dawned on her, she plead with me, “Bruce, you know the truth of the Gospel, you’ve preached it to others, why not just believe it for yourself, right now?” But to me, it no longer seemed quite that simple!

I find it hard to explain, but that night I experienced such a calm that I’d not known for a long time and instead of lying awake in fear and under deep conviction of sin (as I thought might have happened), I slept peacefully with a deep sense of relief!!! It was not a false sense of security thinking that I was accepted with God, for I knew that I wasn’t! It was rather just a deep sense of relief stemming from finally facing the truth about myself. I was no longer uncertain, but for the first time in my life I knew exactly where I stood before God. There was no doubt in my mind any longer. I knew that the matter of salvation must now be my #1 priority! That sense of relief was very short lived and the next day the seriousness of my condition was clearly before me. That night was our midweek Bible study night in Collingwood and I knew I needed to go and talk to someone. Judy had been crying all day and was in no frame of mind to go to a meeting so I went alone. I had never before gotten into the habit of wearing a seat belt, but that night I buckled up securely! I knew I was unsaved, under the wrath of God and with no guarantee that the Lord would even spare me from death till I got to Collingwood that night!

After the meeting, David Gray, a man whom I’d called from work that afternoon to tell him my problem, came to me and asked “Bruce are you sure you’re not saved? As a young man, I often struggled with doubts, but I could always go back in my mind to the might I got saved and I knew the matter was settled.” I said, “David, that is something I’ve never been able to do!” So he invited me over to his home that night to talk, and I was glad to go!

Sitting in the living room of David and Elizabeth’s home, he and I read many scriptures and talked of many things relative to God’s salvation. I kept thinking, “As long as we’re looking at the scriptures, I’m sure I’ll get saved!” I’d heard so many people tell how the Lord had used a verse of scripture to open their eyes and draw them to Christ. So that night I was looking for “my” verse of scripture! But the more we read, the darker my mind seemed to get and I began to wonder if I would ever be saved!

But eventually we came to John 5:39 & 40 where the Lord Jesus said to the Pharisees of His day, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”

I heard no audible voice but the thought that came to the mind of this Pharisee in that moment was clearer than an audible voice, “Bruce, what a fool you have been! Here you are looking for a verse of scripture, but salvation is not in some verse of scripture – it is in the One of whom the scriptures speak!”

Immediately Isaiah 53:5, a verse I’d learned many years before in Sunday School, came to mind in a very personal way, “But He (the Lord Jesus) was wounded for my transgressions, He was bruised for my iniquities: the chastisement of my peace was upon him; and with his stripes I am healed.”

In that moment I turned to David Gray and said, “David, I know it’s settled. He died for me!”

I knew then what my problem had been all along: Being raised in the Woodford home, where Dad and Mom wouldn’t let us do many of the things the neighbour kids could , I had foolishly thought, “We Woodford kids are just a bit better than the kids down the block! But nothing could have been further from the truth! “For there is no difference, for all have sinned!” Romans 3:22,23
So the night when I was 11 and professed to be saved, I’d been afraid of hell but had not been willing to acknowledge my sinfulness!
Since the 21st of November,1981, (my spiritual birthday) I’ve often said that I didn’t learn (intellectually) any truth that night that I didn’t know before. But I did come to know in my spirit at least two things:
(1) I learned what it was to finally have peace with God resting on what the Lord Jesus did for me, and
(2) I learned what a vast difference there is between having religion and knowing Christ!

After all those years that I had tried to deal with my doubts by thinking… “ I couldn’t have done all the things I’ve done and not be saved”… I now realized that I had been resting for assurance in my doing rather than in what the Lord Jesus had already done for me!

I am so very thankful to God for giving His own Son to die in my place and I have often thanked the Lord for Helen Ferguson (now Helen Allen) whose courage and honesty was used by the Lord to awaken me to acknowledge my own need of the Saviour!

(I’ve been in touch recently with Helen and her husband , Steve, and look forward to soon being able to share with you Helen’s own story of how she came to Christ some years after I did.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Examining myself whether I was in the faith

I had been raised in a home where both Dad and Mom were believers in the Lord Jesus. They read the Bible and prayed with us almost daily and took us to church and Sunday school every time the church doors were open! My folks did not believe in staying home from church with new born babies, or fussy children and had no use for nurseries or “children’s church”. Rather they believed in training us from the start to listen quietly during family devotions at home and to do the same when we went to church! Thus, I could never remember a time when I had not heard the Gospel being preached! I knew that I was not a Christian because Mom and Dad were saved, but that I needed to experience salvation personally.

When I was 11, I attended a young peoples’ Saturday night rally at which we watched a movie that emphasized the necessity of choosing Christ and avoiding hell. In response to an invitation at the close of that meeting I had raised my hand to indicate that I wanted to be saved. I went home and told my Mom that I’d gotten saved that night. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday 1964, my grandfather, a retired Baptist pastor, baptized me by immersion on the basis of my profession of faith in Christ.

Because of a deep interest in foreign missions, I went to Moody Bible Institute after graduation from high school to prepare for life as a missionary and eventually was “ordained to the ministry” and commissioned for service as a church planting missionary in the West Indies. But no one but me and the Lord knew that I often wrestled with doubts , “Bruce, are you sure that you’re really saved???”

These doubts continued through my teen years, as a Bible School student, and even as an ordained minister and missionary! But I always reasoned that they were simply an attack of Satan seeking to rob me of my joy. So I’d put them out of my mind time and time again. But the more “progress” I made (Bible school student, missionary candidate, ordained minister, foreign missionary, and “Pastor”) the less possibility there was that I would ever acknowledge to anyone that I sometimes doubted my own salvation!! I could not bear the thought of acknowledging such thoughts to anyone! “What would people think of me, in my position, if they knew!” So never having any peace as I recalled the night when I’d professed to be saved, I’d tell myself, “Woodford, you couldn’t have done all you’ve done or been in all the places you’ve been without being saved!!!”

But this “chapter” of my life brings us to the time when, as a father of 4 children, I would read the Bible and pray with my family, study the scriptures and preach and teach in assembly meetings and had done so for about two years. But now, I had no position over anyone, no reputation to maintain and now the Lord was about to use a brave young woman to cause me to consider where I really stood before God.

One family in the assembly that met at the Collingwood Gospel Hall was the Ferguson family. They had heard the Gospel some years before and the three daughters had responded to the Gospel message shortly after their parents. All had been baptized and eventually each one had been received into the assembly. But one Sunday morning, I was surprised to see the youngest girl, Helen, who was then in her late teens, sitting near the back of the Hall rather than in her usual place to share in taking the Lord’s Supper.

Right after the meeting, I took one of the elders aside and asked, “What’s wrong with Helen Ferguson?” He responded, “She’s concluded that she never got to Christ when she professed to believe in him years ago! So she realizes that it is not her place as an unbeliever to be in the assembly.”

While I was surprised to hear this, a deep respect welled up in my heart for this young woman and for her courage and honesty! A few minutes later, I said to her Mom and Dad, “It’s far better that Helen faces the truth now and get’s saved than it would be for her to live her life with a false profession and end up in hell at the end!!”

Shortly, I turned with my family to get into our car and a thought rang through my mind so clearly that an audible shout would not have made a deeper impression: “Here is a young woman who has had the courage to acknowledge exactly where she stands …NOW, BRUCE, WHAT ABOUT YOU?” To this day there is no memory in my mind that is clearer than the recollection of that question put to me over 29 years ago! But as stubborn and proud as I was, I immediately put it out of my mind and refused to consider it!

But the Lord was not through with me! I often stayed up late at night reading after the house was quiet, and about two weeks later picked a book off my shelf, “The Life of David Brainerd”. Brainerd had been a Gospel preacher to the American Indians in the late 1700’s. That night, I learned that he’d had a very religious upbringing quite similar to my own and in his late teen years had devoted his life to preaching the Gospel among the native peoples of New England. But, at the age of 21, as he prepared to preach from Isaiah 53, the Lord arrested him and brought him to realize for the first time in his life, the reality of his own sinfulness and of his own need for the Saviour! So at the age of 21, David Brainerd was converted to Christ after having spent some years as a Gospel preacher!

In my own case, I had not yet come to the point of being willing to acknowledge to another person the awful doubts that had plagued me on and off for 18 years. But the thought that was burned into my mind that night before I lay my head on my pillow was this, “Bruce Woodford, you cannot afford to go on any longer with uncertainty about your own salvation! You’ve got to get this matter settled, one way or the other!” (To be continued)