January 17, 1993
William Jefferson Clinton was preparing for his inaugural, the Cowboys beat the 49ers, and God showed Himself powerful and contemporary in a Sunday School class at Houston’s First Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.
The lesson that morning was from Psalm 103, primarily verses 1-5. David is talking to himself and instructs himself to “Bless the Lord” which means give praise or thanks to God. He then lists some reasons for himself to do so.
He (God) forgives all my sin; He heals all my disease; He redeems my life from the grave, the pit, destruction; He crowns me with love and compassion, loving kindness; and He restores my youth like the eagle.
I stood to teach the class of 150 or more on that morning. I had never been more emotionally drained than I was that morning. I had never had less faith than I did that morning. The pit David described was swallowing me.
But God (aren’t those great words from the Scripture?) changed everything. Let me explain…
The Back Story
In 1990, I was serving as the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas and had been for some time. First Baptist was a great church and an historical Southern Baptist Church. In January, I contracted a flu virus that ultimately penetrated the mylan sheath of my vocal folds and damaged the nerve tissue beyond repair.
Over the next three years I was seen by over 63 specialists and their teams (totaling over 200 doctors) as they tried to diagnose and treat me. I had been left with a voice that sounded like the worst case of laryngitis you have ever heard, and could only make that if I screamed at the top of my lungs. My daughters were both students at Baylor and I could not even call their dorm because I sounded like an obscene phone caller.
Though the congregation had been incredibly patient with my disability, I had resigned for obvious reasons in 1991. Everything I had ever done to earn a living had been connected to my ability to speak and suddenly my “tool kit” was gone.
We had moved back to Houston and my wife had become the primary breadwinner in our family. A dear friend gave me a job as a private investigator working in an area where my voice was unimportant, but I ached to do the ministry to which I had been called.
The Catacombs Class
First Houston had a Sunday School class that had first met in the basement of the church, hence “The Catacombs.” A wonderful group of folks that I had been privileged to teach before I went to Brenham and with whom contact was never lost. When they learned that we were moving back to Houston, they came to Brenham with bodies and trucks and moved us…or, as one of our directors said, “Retrieved” us.
It was to Houston’s First Baptist Church that we returned and to that class as members. Their support and fellowship was (and is) more valuable than words can express.
In April, 1992, the teacher of the Catacombs had to take some time away for personal reasons. Our directors (a husband and wife) asked if I would fill in while a permanent replacement was sought. I protested that I was too hard to understand which was met with “we’ll listen REALLY carefully.” I have come to understand that they asked, not because I was such a profound teacher, but because they loved me and knew how desperately I needed to teach.
The female half of our director team was persistent about me becoming the permanent teacher even when the educational staff of the church expressed their reservations because of my voice. She told them that she was as certain that God wanted me to teach that class as she could possibly be and they ultimately relented.
Little did she, they, or me truly know what God was preparing.
As I mentioned before, I was in a horrible pit as I took to the platform that morning. Two days previous, I had sat for hours in my living room with a shotgun in my mouth and I had come to the end of myself. “Blessing the Lord” was difficult for me. In truth, the only reason I was there was because I could not find a substitute and I could not simply not show up. So my teaching that morning was perfunctory, nothing more.
As I began the outline I discussed the word “all.” It literally means “every single one without exception.” Christ’s forgiveness of all my sin is what makes the Good News GREAT. I had no problem with that discussion.
But, when I began to talk about healing, my words were, “I still believe God heals,” while my thoughts were, “but why not me?” I moved through that discussion as honestly as I could and began my third thought…”He redeems my life from the pit.”
I began my discourse, “I have had, and you have had, in times past, pit experiences.” On the word, “pit,” the pressure that had been in my throat for three years was gone as if someone had removed their hand from choking me. I continued, startled, “We’ve all had times when our life seemed to be in a pit, in a grave, and we didn’t have an answer for the pit we find ourselves in.” While I was speaking, I was swallowing choke-free, and I’ll never forget my thought…”is that what I think it is?”
Doctors confirmed that it was what I thought it was when I saw them the following days. My voice has been totally restored, and to quote my lead physician, “I can’t find any evidence that you ever had a voice problem.”
The event happened on January 17, 1993, the third Sunday of the month…today. The event was caught on tape in the most casual way. The event changed my life and has affected literally millions of people worldwide.
The Catacombs Class started recording lessons decades before that Sunday. In a large group, 100% attendance is impossible. In order to be of service, a cassette recording was made no matter who taught, and one or two copies would be made available the following Sunday. The cassettes would simply be on the back table and if you wanted one, it was there. When I say, “no big deal,” I mean, “no deal at all!” But in that church with over 20,000 members that was the only class that recorded their lessons. Anywhere else would not have had the impact that God intended.
I didn’t ask to teach the class, our director fought to have me teach. I didn’t write my own material, I was using what used to be called, “Bible Book Series” material that was used Convention-wide. And, don’t forget, I didn’t want to be there. Coincidences? I think not.
From that day to this I celebrate the restoration of my vocal ability. I wrote of the experience the following week and described it in terms that likened it to Lazarus coming from the grave. My gratitude and my emotions have not waned in 20 years.
I have crisscrossed this country and the world telling the story of that moment. God has used me as an object lesson of His grace and power. I have appeared on the Oprah show and have shared my story with one little lady in a nursing home who could not speak, but wept as I related the timeless story of His Goodness. I still go wherever the opportunity is given to share the story and I will do so until I am physically unable to do so.
If you would like to hear The Moment for yourself, go to our website, www.nuvoice.org. It can be heard on our Home Page. Listen and believe this…if God could do that for me, He can solve whatever problem you have in your life. He loves you every bit as much as He loves me.
We’ve been saying it for 20 years….and counting.