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Autobiography: Agnostics and a "Jesus People"

Here is another short story from my autobiography, Grace Upon Grace, which will be in print this spring.

In the winter of 1971-1972, I was invited to take part in a panel responding to Gordon Lathrop, who was speaking in the CUB ballroom at Washington State University. Gordon was a Lutheran theologian and the chaplain of Pacific Lutheran College in Tacoma. I think I was selected because of my effectiveness in reaching high school kids in God’s Garage. The other panel members were Mr. Bowman, the United Church of Christ pastor, King Rockhill, the Methodist pastor, and professor Paul Brians, founder of the WSU Society for the Propagation of Militant Atheism. The panel members were not allowed to debate with each other, and were only to speak about Gordon Lathrup’s comments.

The ballroom was packed. Gordon started by making fun of Jesus people. After doing that for a while, he said, “Let’s talk about Jesus.” He said that there was not much known about Jesus. Only two things were certain:…
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Required to Refute…Gently

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Titus 1:9

This sentence is a part of the qualifications of an elder in a church in a town in Crete. The elder is to encourage and refute: In order to do this properly the elders must hold firmly to the message.

We find other qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:2 like “gentle” and “not quarrelsome. “The reason I bring this up is the requirement to refute the opposition and yet not be quarrelsome. We see a statement in 2 Timothy 2:4 which confirms this teaching, “and the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him, he must gently instruct...”

There is increasing opposition today to sound doctrine and to Christians. Christians must refute those in opposition but they must do it gently, kindly, and without quarreling.

Join the #keepthefeast Bible Reading Challenge …

Alibi Jim

A childhood memory from my autobiography:

There was one day on the farm that I did not want to hoe. I hoed one of the tomato patches for a while, then laid down in the dirt in the sunshine and pretended to be asleep.

After a few minutes, someone came to check on me and found me "sleeping." Everyone thought it was funny. I couldn’t tell them I was faking it. They would not believe me! Dad already had a nickname for me—“Alibi Jim.”

From the Autobiography: Hypocrites & Conquistadors

One day, a hippie named Hardy Cook came into the bookstore in College Park, Maryland. When he realized that he was in a Christian store, he felt obligated to tell me why he was not a Christian. I had heard the same story many times before. His reasons for rejecting Christianity were the Conquistadors, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and hypocrites.

When he finished, I asked him these questions.

“Are hypocrites Christians?”


“Were the Crusaders Christians?”


“Were the Conquistadors Christians?”


“Were the Inquisitors Christians?”


“Hardy, you just told me that you are not a Christian because of all these non-Christians. That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

I told him that I had been asked to speak at the InterVarsity Fellowship that evening in the Student Union Building and gave him the time and the room number.

It was a long room with a long table down the middle. There were about seventy-five students there. The room was so crowded that when I stood up to speak, I …

From My Autobiography: Sensei

When I was a first classman at the Academy, I read an article in PC, the British Officers’ Christian Union Magazine. It was written by Irene Webster-Smith, an Irish Quaker missionary to Japan with the Japan Evangelistic Band. The article was about how God used her in leading Japanese war criminals to the LORD in Sugamo prison.

At the end of WWII, Miss Webster-Smith was ministering with Inter School Fellowship. Before the war, she had run the Sunrise Home, a girls’ orphanage in Kobe, Japan. When she returned to Japan, there was no orphanage. Miss Webster-Smith had led to Christ a very bitter woman whose husband was on death row in Sugamo Prison for war crimes. The woman asked Sensei (Japanese for “teacher”), as Irene was known, to take her place and visit her husband. Sensei gave him a gospel of John and introduced him to the Father through the Son. She also told him that Jesus was named “Jesus” by God before Jesus was born, because He would save people from their sin.

When his wife …

Growing up in Nebraska

Here is another outtake from my autobiography:

Growing up in Nebraska, I did not know what an accent was, but I spoke Nebraskan. I was in many places during my eleven years in the Navy, so I lost the Nebraskan dialect. It got so I could recognize which part of the South someone was from—Carolina, Alabama, or Texas.

In the 1960s, the faculty of the Biblical Seminary in NYC was on the liberal side, but the students were evangelical because the seminary put a heavy emphasis on inductive study of the Bible. These students ran church youth groups in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan, and Jersey City.

The students decided to have a conference at the seminary for all the youth groups and invited me to be the evangelist. Each group had a different accent. The accents were so thick you could cut them with a knife. During a break in the meetings, one group of school kids was talking together. Pretty soon, one of the kids came over to me and asked me where I was from. I told…

Evangelism on the Train

My autobiography has been written and will be in print soon. In the meantime, here is a little outtake from my many travels for speaking engagements:

One time in 1957 or 1958, I caught an overnight train home from the Coast Guard Academy to D.C. I had planned to spend the 8-hour ride sleeping.

The train stopped at Penn Station in New York City, and a woman boarded with several suitcases. I got up to help her stow her bags.

She sat down next to me. “You are the first person to be polite to me on this trip,” she said. “What do you do for a living?

I told her I was a graduate of the Naval Academy and ministered the gospel at the service academies to help cadets and midshipmen come to the Father. It is hard to imagine that I could have said anything that would have impressed her more. If I had said I was the Queen of England, that might have done it.

She told me she had been a Follies Girl for Ziegfeld back in the twenties and thirties and had dated midshipmen from the classes of 1928…