After Julia and I went to the Marriage Encounter Weekend my life was never the same. I had experienced for the first time, although I didn’t know it then, the freedom to hear God and act on what He said, not what I felt I had to do, or what other people said that I had to do. The change was dramatic and startling. From never wanting to go to church except to the morning service, I was there all the time. I was involved in committees on Evangelism. I was in an outreach called EE, where every week we went and knocked on doors trying to lead people to Christ. I was on the nominations committee that helped choose the pastors of the church. I had a lot of zeal and even more passion.
We also became presenting couples for Marriage Encounter. That entailed laboriously writing talks; talks that spilled out “guts”. These talks were about the innermost feelings in areas of our marriage. After we had them written, then we had to read them to sometimes 50 or more couples. It was very hard, but very rewarding because we could see how God used the talks to help reach others. This was an area where we both were being used as a team, and it was where our concept of team ministry was formed. After this it wasn’t just “Tom or just “Julia”. It was “Tom and Julia” or “Julia and Tom”. Sure we were involved in separate ministries sometimes, but we always supported each other and we were always involved together in each other’s ministry. For example: years later when I was ordained as a pastor at NE Metro Vineyard. I was the one who was ordained, but we “Tom and Julia” were know as the associate pastors. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Teams are much more effective. That doesn’t mean both have to be in the spotlight, but they both have to be involved. We were probably involved in Marriage Encounter for about two years. It got harder to give the talks, because we had changed so much it was like reading about someone else. Besides, something else happened. Something that would be like an earthquake, shaking everything in our lives. Mark Rutland came to First Methodist, and a Baptist boy and girl encountered the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
I was not prepared for what was about to happen. My life was under control. I was enjoying flying. Our marriage was better than it ever had been. We had a lot of friends and were really enjoying church. The girls were at a real fun age. Life was good. We had bought some acreage over off Stilesboro Rd near Kennesaw Mountain Park and we were about to build a house. It was during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. The economy was much worse than it is now. Interest rates were sky high. The only way that we could afford to build was for Julia to go back to work. We had a plan. She applied and was accepted to teach in Cobb County. This was perfect; we were working on plans and were about to apply for a construction loan within the month. Things were on track. It was the fall of 81 and we had a “Revival” scheduled. Now the concept of Revival I had then was much different than the concept I have now. Anyway we had a series of meetings. I think they started on Wed, but I don’t remember. I do know that a couple of nights were during the week. Our pastor had set up these lunch meetings where the speaker would speak while we ate a light lunch. They were called “Lunch Lifts”, and they were a pretty big hit with the community. Anyway, I wasn’t going to be at the first nightly meeting because I was flying. I would be back in time for the second night, and would be there for the weekend. We were having some Methodist Evangelist named Mark Rutland. I had never heard him speak, but he had a good reputation and I was looking forward to hearing him. Julia was teaching, I think school had been in session for almost a month, but she was going to the night meetings. I was flying late so I didn’t get to talk to her after the service, and I knew she would be at work and I didn’t talk to her until I got home late the next afternoon.
As I came in, I asked her how the night was. She said it was great, beyond anything that she had ever expected. Then she said that she had been “baptized in the Holy Spirit”. My immediate remark was “What’s that?” Being raised Baptist, I had never heard of that term before. She said it was like nothing that she had ever experienced; it was like God poring liquid love over her. She had surrendered every area of her life to Him, and asks for Him to fill her with the Holy Spirit. I could have debated her and told her that she already had the Holy Spirit when she was saved, but something stopped me. The look of peace and love in her face was different than I had ever seen in her. I knew that something had happened, and I just wanted to know more. Then I ask her how school was. I was shocked when she told me that she didn’t go. Why, I asked. She said that she felt like she was supposed to go to the lunch lift. Well I was upset, I didn’t want her to lose her job, all our plans for building depended on it. Then she dropped the bomb: “I think that God wants me to quit and stay home with the girls”. Well, you can imagine what was going through my head. “God didn’t tell me any of this. What about our plans? Where would we live, we were going to have to move out of our present house in about 6 months. My mind was swirling, but she looked so calm and so peaceful. I just dropped the conversation and began to have my own conversation with God.
So here we go into church that night. I really want to know more about this new ‘baptism”. I can see a definite change in Julia, and if it changed her that much in such a short time, maybe it’s real. The pressure of her quitting work or not quitting is swirling around me. All of the questions about building and all of MY plans are in question. I don’t remember the sermon Mark preached. I don’t even remember the alter call. All that I can remember about that night so long ago is me being down on my knees at the alter crying. I remember asking God for all that He had, and to keep me always seeking more of Him. Mark Rutland came and prayed with me. There was no hype. I didn’t speak in tongues right then or have any other Spiritual Gifts manifest. I prayed a simple prayer of complete surrender. Every area surrendered to His will. Mark told me that I needed to receive this Baptism of the Holy Spirit by faith, just as I had received salvation. He even had me write it down in my Bible, the day and time so that when the enemy told me that I hadn’t done anything, I could come back and say yes I did and read the date and time and the words “Received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit”. I came back to this mark in time on many occasions. After the prayer, I didn’t really feel any different, but I knew that I was. I knew that I was different initially because I no longer cared about MY plans. The building of the house was no longer a priority. That night Julia and I talked. She resigned the next day. We never looked back. It took us almost three more years to build, and we both loved every minute of life in between. So I was changed, very changed. This was the real turning point in my walk with God. Things have never been the same since.
I’m not going to get in to a theological debate on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Some of my Baptist friends would debate whether it exists. Some of my Pentecostal friends would debate whether I had received it that night because I didn’t speak in tongues at the time. Personally I believe that you can speak in tongues at that time, although not all do. My feeling is that you should begin to manifest at least on the gifts of the Spirit soon after you pray. For me, a strong peace settled over me. I had more of a desire for Him and all that He was doing, and I desired every gift that He had to give. Did I speak in tongues that night? No. Do I speak in tongues now? Yes. It took about a month before it manifest., and I had to want it so badly that I could put the foolish feeling behind me. So, Mark Rutland played a very significant role in our lives. Mark Rutland, a Methodist Evangelist, then missionary, then pastor of Mt Paran Church of God and now President of Oral Roberts University. Amazing how Papa works, isn’t it?