Friday, November 21, 2014

A short testimony of God’s grace in the life of [Uncle] Dave, age 48.

Often one is asked, How did you come to believe as you do?  I would like to give such a testimony here.  Though likely somewhat longer than one might think according to the title, I have sought to only bring to bear those life events and activities, which seem to have had a spiritual bearing upon my upbringing.  I believe the length to appropriate to my age. (It prints at 6 pages!)

Dave Cox, October 2014

I was born in northern Illinois in Rock Island to David & Marjorie Cox in 1966.  Mom was an only child whose parents had both passed before I was born.  She had a nominally protestant background.  Dad was the youngest of 7 and was born nearly deaf.  His was from a practicing Catholic upbringing.  I am the oldest of 5.  We moved a lot while growing up, and by the time we had finally settled in the Northwood’s of Wisconsin, I had lived in Milan, Il., Menominee, MI., Abbeville, SC., Ashland, WI., Phelps, WI., and 3 different houses in Eagle River, WI. 

Spiritually, we were active practicing Catholics, and for I while I was even an altar boy.  Early on I felt as though I was being drawn to God.  Though not a true believer in Christ, as a child I did believe that Christ died for me, but I could not understand why.  Yearly I would make resolutions only to note the following year I did a lousy job keeping them.  After a while I wondered what was the point.  I recall a poster on a teacher’s desk in the 6th grade, "God helps those who help themselves". This was a horrible thing to read - but I did not know it at the time.  I did not realize what a works based statement it was, and it made good sense at the time.  I also was deeply into hard rock music.  The Sony walkman allowed me to escape the world into my own private place.  As an adult I have never completely felt comfortable with headphones since it reflected that anti-social behavior in me.
As a teen I became involved with pornographic magazines and this was a problem for many years.  By God's grace and a sanctified life, I rarely face this temptation. But I would not be honest to say the issue was ever over with.  However, as I walk with the Lord, He keeps me and this has never been the temptation it once was when a teen.  My other besetting sin was a terrible tongue.  I was so foulmouthed when my parents were not around.  Friends would talk to me just to hear me swear.  Once, after a particularly loud string of expletives the Principal of the High School turned me around and grabbed me by the shirt collar and threatened me (he never said with what but I knew well enough) and I was ashamed to be confronted publically in the hallway.

Apart from ordinary sibling rivalry and the other mentioned items, I was a good kid, morally.  And I had the self-righteous attitude to show for it.  While I knew my own sins well enough, I was always better that those druggies over there and I would never drink!  And it was when I was about 14 our neighbor Mr. Bagwell invited my brother and I to their church.  His kids were going and we were friends.  I was glad to go, since my parents had lapsed in their Catholic attendance.  For a while I even went to the Catholic Church on my own, and once even to confession.  So church was a good thing, in my mind.  I knew I needed some way to make it up to God for my flaws and going to church made sense to me.  Mr. Bagwell went to a fundamental Bible church, the Community Bible Church of Eagle River and it was only 3 blocks from home right on my street. 

The church gave regular altar calls, but not by walking down the aisle.  The Pastor (Len Johnson) would simply ask us if we wanted him to pray for us and if so, raise your hand.  I raised my hand every time.  I knew I could use the prayer, and the Pastor did pray.  After a number of weeks of attendance one day after church he asked me if I'd like to talk with him.  So we went to the basement of the church building where he led me through his version of the Romans road, though I wouldn't have known that then! 

But what a feeling!  I felt the sins wash away and was so free in my heart!  So after the meeting, I hurried home to get some money.  Then I hurried back to church and got back just before they closed the doors for the afternoon.  What did I hurry back to do with that money?  I asked if I could buy a Bible!  For 7 dollars they 'sold' me a new hardback Scofield 1917 edition Bible.  I spent the rest of the afternoon reading that Bible!  And God brought me to Jeremiah 31 and the new covenant.  While I didn't understand everything, this was mine!  I also recall specifically selecting Isaiah 40:31 as a life verse at that time.

But the besetting sins of my life did not go away.  While I had some knowledge of salvation, I needed to understand the work of sanctification in a believer’s life.  Living one way at school and another at home, I began compartmentalizing my life in neat little boxes.  But I never once would have thought that I was hiding anything from God - just other people.  That was ok, right?  So when I sinned and recognized it, I felt sorry about it, even if not caught.  That was enough, right?  But what I did not understand was feeding the flesh through my besetting sins was not the way for a Christian to become more sanctified.  And it certainly didn't make it easier to overcome.  So I was trapped.

In my final year of High school the hospital my parents worked at was acquired and both of them lost their jobs.  It was a terrible situation.  Only a few months before that we had moved into a new house and my brother suddenly became ill.  Eventually we discovered he was diabetic, but the new mortgage and all those medical bills caused us to be on a really tight financial situation.  When the jobs were lost the family was, temporarily divided.  There was about a month were we lived in rental cabins, the kind people rent for a week or two up north.  We lived in them.  My parents had each of us move in with a family friend and so I went to Kirk & Barb Andersons’ home for the remainder of the school year, about 4 months

Shortly before this I turned 18 and though I was not graduated yet (my birthday is in January) I was now an adult.  My life in neat little boxes was coming apart and my besetting sins went to the background as new ones sprang up.  I was 18 so I reasoned I could now drink if I wanted to, and I did so, just to say I did.  Also, I reasoned that as an adult, I was now on my own.  I didn't even live at home, and while I respected the Andersons, they were not my parents. I began shoplifting junk food and booze from the store I worked at. 

And then I graduated High school.  My friend Fred threw a graduation party complete with booze and I went for the hard stuff.  But since school was over Mom & Dad wanted to get the family back together and they had been working very hard in Crystal Falls, Michigan to do so.  So the day after graduation I moved to Crystal Falls leaving all my friends and the town I had spent the past 6 years in.

School was my social outlet and having graduated I didn't know where or how I was to meet friends. But my brothers & sisters were in school, and so I began meeting people through them.  However the reason I became friends with many of them was that I could buy beer in Wisconsin.  I became a beer supplier for people and thereby gained certain status.  Then it was on to pot and amphetamines.  I was never what you would call a junkie, but I did use frequently.  It was just another point of rebellion.  During this 4 year period I remember a handful of notable items.

One was that I remembered God only in a dire need, praying for my brother Scott once when he had a major medical need, going into a coma.  He made medical history surviving without brain damage the largest overdose of tegretol ever to that date.  I also prayed when I myself overloaded on speed.  I was awake for nearly 40 hours and in great paranoia.  I also recall a man named Ron Hefner who was probably in his 40's working for Burger King - not as manager, but as a general worker like myself.  This man tried befriending me, and I was ok with it.  He was a Christian, and when he found out my birthday was near, he bought me a small pocket Bible.  That Bible became a precious possession, though I still did not yield to the Savior.  I have prayed for Ron occasionally and look forward to meeting him again, if not here in heaven!

In 1987 I began trying on my own to clean up my life, and finally quit pot after 3 attempts.  I moved back home during this time and began a close relationship with my Dad that remains to this day. A year later I had left the drinking scene.  I had begun considering college and was looking into Gogebic Community college when my parents discovered an opportunity to move back to Eagle River and took it.  I rapidly changed my college plans to Nicolet College and Tech in Rhinelander, WI.  But I was home - really home.

For those who have never lived in a small town, Eagle River is that town - about 1500 people in all, perhaps 10,000 in the whole county.  I knew I had to be in church come Sunday morning.  And so I was - feeling like the word Guilty was emblazed across my forehead.  A lot of people have this idea that a fundamental church can be mean and unloving, and while I am aware of this, the Community Bible church was never like this to me.  I felt horribly guilty, but not horribly judged.  Nevertheless I wanted to make my heart right once again, whatever it took, and after 3 weeks of bugging Pastor Len, he stopped over one evening.  That evening I made my peace with God and each of the others around the table did so at that time, Dad, Mom, Scott, and Kriss.  Charlie & Sandy were both in the military and were not there. 

After this I began to grow like crazy in the things of the Lord.  I rode in to college with either of two older Christian men, Dave Johnson - son of Pastor Len, and Bill Campbell - owner of the two local Christian bookstores.  These men discipled me, even if they didn't know it.  I was forever asking challenging theological questions of them during our daily rides to and from school.  At some point during this time I got my hands on a mission’s magazine, and was persuaded to go into the ministry.  How that would look would change over the years. 

I felt the need to prepare like never before and had heard of a small Bible college in Chicago.  My expectation was the Moody would be a small school, perhaps smaller that the community college I went to in Rhinelander.  If I had known how big it was, and how diverse in doctrine I likely would have looked elsewhere.  I know I looked seriously at a small school in Minnesota known for missions training at this time, but free tuition sounded like a better deal so I applied at Moody and was accepted!

Going to MBI was the biggest thing to happen to me.  I was this naive, small town, small minded boy with the whole world around me.  And apart from ministry I had another goal - to find if God would permit, a ministry partner for life.  And here I was, after all, in the place where there were more Christians around than we had in my whole town!  (Moody's undergrad population was equal to Eagle River's population)  I did indeed meet my wife Julie here and we married in August of 1991.

As for the general student population, I was older than most of them - even many of the seniors, having wasted 4 years.  And so I was a 23 year old freshman. I had not realized that many of these students themselves had never surrendered to Christ, some never would.  I also did not realize what a breadth of theological belief was to be found at Moody.  And while I do believe that it is very important to be challenged in my beliefs, Moody was a bit more liberal in general than I was actually. 

However - I did not realize this at that time, and as I would encounter certain students that were in a different land theologically I would challenge them and was challenged a little by them.  What challenged me more were the differences among the professors!  Here I expected orthodoxy and while many times it was clearly I that needed to learn a thing or two - there was a couple notable Profs which I believe were in the liberal left field theologically!  These men in particular, since they were professors challenged me more than my peers did, because I respected them! 

I took off from school in Dec 1990 to pay down debt, and get married.  I had heard the rumors - those who leave early - most never return.  This only pushed me harder to return.  So after a 2½ year hiatus I was back in classes as a married student off campus in the fall of '93. I had heard of a new returning missionary/teacher from the field of Central America and I eagerly signed on to as many classes as I could with Ken Hanna.  I was not disappointed.  It was he who became one of the solid foundational men in my preparation.  In 1995 I went on a 6 week mission’s trip to Nicaragua and México with him. 

At the same time as I was preparing to take this mission trip, Julie and I began applying to CAM International missionary organization.  We also discovered in January of 1995 that we were to be parents later that year!  While this was very exciting I struggled for quite a time about the trip.  How could I leave my wife of 4 years, immediately before the baby was to be born?  And what if there were complications and she had to go in early?!  So much to trust the Lord for!  My trip was to start in June but in May we had to travel to Texas for candidate school with CAM.  It was a two week time of meetings and classes and even meeting Dr. Charles Ryrie in his home.  Then we had the final day.  This was the day known as sticker shock - when the organization would show you what you would need to have in order to go to the field.  I was overwhelmed.  How was it we would have to raise more money to live in México than Julie and I lived on in Chicago?!  We must have faith I thought.

But I didn't have the time to consider this at all, as my mission trip was to start in just a few days!  Mr. Hanna had become so close as a professor he was a friend and He and I had coffee many times a week.  But I had such a culture shock after arriving in Nicaragua I had forgotten to even drink coffee for 3 days!  And it was a good thing I had taken Spanish.  There were 2 native Spanish speakers in the group beside Mr. Hanna but they were frequently busy.  So the team had heard I took it, and now I was put into the test.  I had to become the translator many times and boy was I inadequate.  And though I butchered the language (and still do) by the time the trip was over I was at least able to have rudimentary conversation with some of the bilingual nationals who helped me as I did them. 

I returned home from my trip and while we jumped into ministry opportunities as often as possible- Vacation Bible Schools, ESL, and church planting in Maywood -we had one special event - becoming parents!  I was 29 when Benjamin David was born.  Life would never be the same again!  And the work in Maywood was significant, so much so that we began attending the Host church, Woodside Bible Chapel, a brethren assembly.  And here I was reminded that I had been moving away from my fundamental roots.  This congregation was far more conservative than Forest Glen was and I really loved it!  I particularly loved the breaking of the bread service.  It was a great blessing!   But the church was having difficulties and since we were not members we felt it best to return to Forest Glen. 

I completed my studies and graduated in June of 1996.  At once I was faced with a dilemma.  Do I go to work full time and work on raising support on the weekends?  Or was taking a fulltime job a compromise in itself?  The trouble was, Julie was home with the baby and we had become convicted that this was where she should be.  So I did have to work.  So the plan was before us.  And I really today believe that it was my plan and not the Lords.  It did make the most sense - but we were moving so fast.  Did we pray enough or even at all?  I watched as Paul Somsel, and Mark Swensen, fellow Moody grads and good friends who I knew go to the field.   And though we did have supporters, we never were able to raise more than 25% of the $4250.00 monthly salary CAM had determined we needed.   I personally struggled with the idea that we could live on far less in the city of Chicago, so why should we need so much to live in México? 

In 1998 CAM asked us to step down from the support raising as candidates.  I began a soul searching time as I considered what the Lord would have for us.   So I went to the men of the church, deacons and former deacons who knew me and asked them to pray for us as we considered what the Lord might have for us.  One man, Tom Rice, had an immediate answer, “Dave – you have a family now, and I think you should focus on raising them up”.  Our daughter Christina Eva was newborn that August so the family was indeed growing!  

So we continued in the various lay ministry opportunities as they came along.  I took a short 6 week class on hospital visitation with the Swedish covenant hospital.  It was a ministerial certificate to allow me to minister to those who were sick.   I was a deacon for a total of 6 years at Forest Glen.  This was a spiritual exercise which I loved to do.  But it occasionally grieved me.  I did have to participate in church discipline two times, once there was repentance, and the other time a hardening.  It was a terrible thing to go through, but I knew it was necessary work.  In 2000 our son Jonathan Lyle was born completing our family.

In 2002 I began working for my current employer.   The following year we purchased a house in Woodstock, and had to leave our church family of 14 years.  We have never believed in Church hopping so it was unreal not to have a church home.  We first attended the Crystal Lake Evangelical Free church, having friends from our days at MBI there, but the church was too large with 700+ in attendance.  It was 3 months before we met the Pastor!  I needed a place where I could serve and this was not the place.  In December of 2003 we received a personal letter from Pastor Fred of HG(not the real name) church. 

This was a much smaller church and we fell in love with the people there!  And they did have needs especially in music ministry.  We began the membership process after we had been attending for nearly 8 months.  After several classes with the pastor we were to sign the doctrinal covenant and become members.  Yet I was immediately challenged since the church had codified their eschatological belief into the membership.  The belief in an imminent pre-tribulational rapture was not new to me, and though I had not yet fully determined my position on all things eschatological I knew I did not subscribe to it. But people don’t typically divide over eschatology I reasoned, and the Pastor did not at all seem to be alarmed that I had an issue with this doctrine, so I signed.

Yet it did matter as you will see.  Being members and apt to teach, I was teaching and even occasionally preaching.   I also began to minister in the area of music.  I was relating some of these matters to a friend, Curt Audet, when he cautioned me to consider where this all might lead.  Since I was active in the ministry it was likely that I could be a candidate for elder, and if chosen, be a leader who didn’t wholly subscribe to the doctrinal statement.  His advice was sound.  So we pulled our membership.  Nevertheless, we remained in attendance there – seeing I was still encouraged to teach and minister in various places. 

Sometime during this period I also discovered that the doctrine of repentance (in relation to salvation) was particularly eschewed by the church.  This raised red flags but I was still focused on the eschatological teaching.  I was still concerned that someone would pose a question regarding these items, and since I was in a teaching position I would have to tell them to speak to someone else (which did not seem to be the right thing to do) or tell them my conviction, which, did not seem appropriate conduct as one being under the authority of the Church.  Sadly – I even participated in the Purpose Driven church promotion, though I had my doubts.  Due to my desire to be under the authority, and be a team player, I chose not to question this aspect of church life.  Eventually we had to leave.  This was the 1st time I have ever left a church over doctrinal matters and it was grievous to me.  We had been at HG for almost 5 years.

On August 3, 2008, we began attending Heritage Baptist Church.  For nearly 2 years we simply sat under the sound teaching, and began a slow process of recovery and learning.  We have since become members and have again become active in the ministry.  

I have written this not to glorify the sin in my life – but to shout from the rooftops that God is good, and is willing, because of His sons sacrificial death in my behalf, to forgive even me.  I trust He will become as precious to you as He’s become to me!  Amen.

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