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New Year's Eve, 1949, I shoved my suitcases onto the vestibule of a train

leaving Miami, Florida for Atlanta, Georgia and my first pastorate. As we

pulled out of the station, I was numb with fear. At age nineteen I had just been

ordained to the ministry and was now stepping into a life that seemed totally

overwhelming. There was no doubt that God had called me to preach, but the

responsibility awaiting me was frightening.

A storm of emotions pounded my heart. Riding the full length of Florida that

night, I stayed awake, realizing I not only had gotten on the train in one year

and would be getting off in the next, 1950, but amazingly, had boarded it in

the first half of the century and would be exiting in the last. As we rumbled

through the dark Florida countryside, a more astonishing thought came to me.

This was the final half-century of the millennium. When it closed, a new,

thousand-year period would be dawning. The prophetic aspect of those facts

gripped my mind. God had already forewarned me that a radical change lay

hidden in my future. But I could never have imagined that in the next seventy-

four years evangelical Christianity would begin a revolutionary--and often

painful restoration to truths about the Holy Spirit it had rejected for centuries.

In that tumultuous change, my own ministry would undergo tragedy before I

submitted to the Scripture's teaching about the Holy Spirit or allowed the

release of His miraculous works through me.

That night on the train I could never have anticipated any of it. With my

denomination, I believed the age of miracles had permanently ended; gifts of

the Spirit surely had vanished with the death of the Apostle John. We were


We had no room in our theology for anything miraculous. Though certain

Scriptures regarding the Holy Spirit troubled me, I had confidence we were

right. With that assurance, I leaned back against the cushion, perhaps a little

pridefully, feeling that doctrinally we were more correct than others. My

ordination on Christmas Day when I knelt before a presbytery in Miami for

the laying-on-of-hands was vivid in my mind. That had been an exciting event,

but, as I understood, had not bestowed any gift of the Holy Spirit. In the

ordination, I had also been examined from my denomination's Articles of

Faith. The first said: "We believe the Scripture of the Old and New Testament

to be the inspired Word of God and the only rule of faith and practice." I found

great security in those words; they said what my heart believed.

Yes, I loved the Scripture, and to my understanding, believed it totally. In my

wildest imagination, I could never have foreseen the day when I would defy

the Churches I loved in defending I Corinthians 12 and 14 as "The inspired

Word of God." That night on the train, had I known the Holy Spirit would

make that awesome demand in my future, I would have been even more


Thus for the first twenty-seven years of ministry, I continued a course of

traditional preaching, undergirding my orthodoxy with study at Columbia

Presbyterian Seminary. In those years, God was wonderfully gracious to me

and my congregations, though the ministry remained powerless. In nearly

three decades, I never saw one alcoholic, suicidal, drug addict, homosexual,

satanist, or person with such life-destroying compulsions, miraculously

delivered by the power of the Holy Spirit. It did not happen. Nor did I expect it

to. My remedy for these problems was secular therapy--not Jesus. In my

theology, the Holy Spirit verified the gospel and regenerated the unsaved. He

had closed the door on every other human need.

In 1977, almost 30 years after that train ride, that negative attitude was

suddenly shattered by a devastating physical and spiritual-earthquake. While

pastor of a congregation in Atlanta, my wife, Laurie, suffered an automobile

accident which left her with thirteen broken bones, multiple fractures, a

collapsed lung and concussion of the brain. For forty days she remained

hospitalized in a near-death condition.

But that was only the physical aspect of the tragedy. The spiritual aspect was

that for a month before the accident occurred, I had a premonition it was going

to happen. That terrifying knowledge plagued me constantly, dogged my heels,

plunged me into such anguish I could not sleep at night. I prayed. I wept. I

begged God not to do it. But my wife knew nothing about the distressing

"message," and I dared not tell her.

The day the wreck occurred, I was 200 miles from home, conducting the

funeral of a friend. At the exact moment of the collision, I raised my wrist,

looked at my watch, and my mind strangely photographed the setting of the

hands on the dial: 12:00 noon. I was perplexed. A sense of strangeness settled

over me. Somehow I sensed, this is a significant moment. When I returned

home late that day, a note on the living room floor instructing me to report to

the hospital immediately. Then standing at my wife’s bedside, it seemed the

devil himself was laughing at me, saying, "You knew it would happen--. You

even knew when it happened--yesterday at 12:00 noon.

But you were powerless to stop it!"

The next three months proved a terrorizing struggle of life and death for both

of us. For me, panic was compounded because of a sense of overwhelming,

utter, defeat. I knew only one thing: something dark and sinister was in control

of our lives and I was powerless to stop it. My pastor-friends had no

explanations for the bizarre psychic premonition that had come to pass. We

had no doctrines that ventured into such areas. As far as I knew, no one did.

Physically, spiritually, emotionally, I sank deeper into nightmarish depression.

I had come to the end of three decades of pastoral work broken, defeated. My

life and ministry had collapsed in total failure.

Laurie finally came home, facing months in a wheel-chair while I continued to

scream at God for answers. Physically, my wife began to recover. Mentally,

neither of us improved. Instead, my depression worsened, moving steadily

toward suicide. This represented a total personality change for me; I had

always been a happy, fun-loving person. That abruptly ended with the wreck.

In total despair one day, I drove out the Stone Mountain Freeway, floored the

accelerator, took both hands off the wheel, and screamed at God, "What are

You going to do about it?!" How I survived, I do not know. I have no further

recall of that ride. My first flicker of hope came weeks later when a gentle,

inner Voice told me, "Here in Atlanta, you will meet your 'Ananias.'" Who that

would be, I did not know. How we would meet, what he would do, remained a

mystery. I only knew that Saul of Tarsus' blindness ended when Ananias

entered his life. Strangely, it never occurred to me that Ananias would lay

hands on me to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Soon afterward, a friend asked if I would visit an inmate in the Atlanta Federal

Penitentiary. He knew little about the prisoner, except that he was "different." I

went, and began a series of visits with one of the most remarkable Christians I

had ever met. The year before, in the Federal Penitentiary at Fort

Leavenworth, Kansas, while in the act of taking his life, he had been born-

again, miraculously delivered from addiction, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Later, he was transferred to Atlanta where our contact began. Though I was

afraid of his spirituality, there was an "aura" about him I had never seen on

anyone before. He had every reason to be in despair. But he wasn't. Instead, he

seemed to "glow" with a joy I had never known. Grace hovered over him,

followed him, spoke through him in a way that amazed me. When he prayed, I

felt peace, like a fragrance, move into that gloomy dungeon. He shared

personal "words of knowledge" with me about things happening in my life

which only God and I knew. He prayed for patients in the prison hospital and

they were healed; he then led them to the Lord. Once, an angry prisoner

slapped his face and sneered, "Turn the other cheek, Christian!," and he did

exactly that. Later, the prisoner returned, repentant, and asking forgiveness. I

did not know what this unusual Christian had--but I knew I needed it.

On three separate occasions, while waiting for him in the visitor's room, I

silently read Bible passages that spoke powerfully about my own crisis. When

he came in, he took the Bible, immediately read the same Scriptures back to

me, explaining their message in a spiritual depth I had never heard. Over and

over, God revealed Himself through my friend. One day while this was

happening, I again heard the "Voice" inside me say, "Charles, listen to what he

has to say. He has your answer." In a very gentle but affirmative way, he

showed me specific Bible passages regarding the baptism in the Holy Spirit

and challenged my rejection of them. No one had ever done that before. He

even made Scriptural sense of the strange "psychic" ordeal that my wife and I

had been through. Carefully, he explained the reality of both spiritual realms,

good and evil, and that I had "touched the unclean thing." Isaiah 52:11. Point

by point, he lovingly presented truth. Admitting this is painful, but it was truth

that terrified me. My denomination closed its pulpits to all who believed in the

baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. If these things were true, and if I said

"Yes" to them, it meant the loss of my Church, my house, my retirement, my

friends, and everything I had worked thirty years to achieve. The decision I

faced had tremendous repercussions. With that prospect before me, my

depression grew worse. Fiercely so.

God was unrelenting; it was He, not the prisoner, who continued to press truth

upon me. He demanded I accept every Bible verse regarding the work of the

Holy Spirit. Somehow, I couldn't turn loose. Summer passed into an Autumn

of sleeplessness and hellish depression. Finally, one November day at the

prison, when I was at the absolute bottom of despair, something inside of me

exploded. In an act of desperate surrender, I suddenly said "Yes!" to the Holy

Spirit. It happened without warning. I slumped in front of the prisoner, and in

the same way Ananias laid hands on Saul of Tarsus, he reached across the

table, placed his hand on my head, and quoted Ananias' words: "The Lord

Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may

receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." With Mafia inmates and

their girl friends watching, the visitor's room of the Atlanta Federal

Penitentiary became my house on the "Street Called Straight." Acts 9:11-18.

What I wish had happened before my train ride in 1949, finally took place.

With totally new meaning, I experienced the "Scripture as the inspired Word of

God and my only rule of faith."

The effect of that moment still defies description; within minutes after I got

home I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that permanently, wonderfully,

revolutionized my life. The spirit of suicide was snatched out of me like dirty

roots from the ground. I felt it go. Anger, rejection, psychic phenomena,

crushing feelings of inferiority that had haunted me since childhood were

yanked out. The next moment, I felt as if I were standing under a spiritual

Niagara Falls being filled by the power of God. Like a flood, the Holy Spirit

overwhelmed me, plunging me out of sight into an ocean of His grace. For a

while, I lay there, fearful to move, afraid that the Glory of Heaven that had

fallen upon me would somehow vanish. I did not know to call it that at the

time, but I was "under the power of the Spirit;" where depression had forced

me down, I now felt weightless, suspended, as if in a cloud. In an astonishing

way, the wondrous "mid-life" transformation I had been foretold years before

had finally come to pass. With it, I had been empowered for ministry beyond

everything I had ever known.

My new love for Jesus was so overwhelming that for two years I never read a

newspaper, watched T.V., sang a secular song, or did many things that had

been my normal routine in the past. It was not that I disciplined myself in that

way; there was no self-effort in it. Nothing could replace my devotion for

Jesus. Literally, He became my "all in all." The months that passed were a

time of intense love-relationship; so much so, that I wanted to hug everyone I

met, tell them about the wonderful power of the Holy Spirit, and

"acknowledge every good thing that was in me by Christ Jesus." Philemon 6.

For the first time in nearly 30 years of preaching, I truly understood the Bride's

longing for her Groom in the Song of Solomon:

"My beloved spoke, and said to me: 'Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come

away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear

on the earth; The time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is

heard in our land.'" Song of Solomon 2:10-12.

My dark winter of depression had ended forever. Flowers sprouted

everywhere. God's beauty surrounded me. Once, while praying in the woods, I

opened my eyes to see every leaf and limb, grass blade and stone, glistening

like polished silver. Where in those same woods earlier, I heard only my own

groaning, I now heard the Lord's voice in carefully spoken "words of

knowledge." These were words about people and circumstances which were

later exactly fulfilled. For months I had suffered from insomnia; now I slept in

deep, deep peace. Jesus had kept His promise: The Comforter had come. In

time, my wife fully recovered, she and our daughter Cecile experienced their

own wonderful renewals in the Holy Spirit, and joined me in an exciting new

ministry. We emerged from our hellish ordeal having learned "the way of God

more perfectly." Acts 18:26. Thankfully, we realized that powers of darkness

had caused the wreck. It was not God. Depression and suicide never returned.

Today, we know to "Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from us."

James 4:7.


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