I grew up in a Christian home, and at the age of six or seven accepted Christ as my Savior. I had heard in Sunday School that some people go to heaven and others go to hell. I wasn't sure how that was determined, but I was too shy to ask. So at home, I asked my mother about it, and she explained the way of salvation to me. I still remember where we sat together at the dining-room table as she explained it and I asked Jesus to save me.
I had assurance of eternal salvation, but when I became a teenager, I awoke to the need for sanctification. At some point, I began to doubt my faith, because it seemed to depend on the fact that I 'happened' to be born to Christian parents that 'brainwashed' me into a faith of their choice. As I analyzed this situation, I realized that my faith needed to rest alone on the dependability and trustworthiness of the Bible; and after I studied on my own why the Bible can be trusted, my faith now rested on a more solid foundation than ever before.
Soon afterward, my father became drawn into ultradispensationalism, but it seemed to me that the thinly-sliced "rightly dividing" of the Scripture was akin to the Jews' fussing about exactly how far one was allowed to walk on the Sabbath. They took pride in having 'correct' doctrine, but had no interest in evangelism or missions. They taught that communion and baptism were Jewish institutions, not for the Gentile church; but at a church picnic, I overheard the pastor confiding to my father that he would allow communion and baptism in the church so that half the congregation would not leave the church. I lost respect for that pastor; but more importantly, I determined that doctrinal teaching should not be accepted unchallenged, but compared to God's Word. I didn't get baptized when I lived with my parents, but when I was married and going to a church in Nutley, I did get baptized. I remember standing in the choir and thinking how I was fitting into the church family, except that I was the only one in the choir not baptized. It reminded me that I ought to act on my convictions.
In high school, my interest in science and engineering increased, and I looked forward to going to an engineering college. But this conflicted with an earlier aspiration to be a preacher. In my blog, http://jamesmclark.blogspot.com/2005/06/how-i-know-that-god-wanted-me-to-be.html, you can read how God miraculously showed me that I was called to be an engineer. This was especially reassuring when my studies became very challenging.
Two weeks after graduation from college, I began a job at ITT, and worked there for 43 years until I retired, getting about the same number of patents for my inventions. I believed and experienced that God could guide me and help me solve complex engineering problems as much as He can guide pastors and missionaries doing "God's work". I thought about men in the Bible like Joseph whose 'secular' job God blessed; and my motto was "whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord."
I grew up extremely shy (until my college years), and although I always hoped to get married some day, I just 'knew' that that would be impossible because of my shyness. But beginning in grade school, I always prayed that God would provide. And He did. In my early 'teens, the Sunday school distributed a small paper called "My Counselor". One week, the paper invited readers to submit poems, and they would pay if it was published. Many of my poems were on Christian themes. I submitted one, and it was published. A Christian girl nearly my age in Nebraska enjoyed the poem and wrote to me, and that was the beginning of a correspondence that lasted nearly seven years. When Donna was considering quiting her job as a telephone operator and taking a teaching position, there was a mix-up that resulted in neither job. With nothing to do, she decided that this was a good time to travel to New York State to visit the boy that she had grown fond of. She got a telephone operator job in the area, found lodging across town, was going to church with my family, and on her days off was eating supper with us. Later, she moved just down the street, and then she was eating with us every night. My family practically adopted her, and she spent so much time chatting with my mother that she knows my family history better than I do. After a few months, before my senior year of college, we got married. I never discovered conventional dating.
We changed churches a few times during our marriage, only because of moving, never out of disloyalty, even during times of church discord. It was always the doctrine that mattered, not the denomination. In each church, I was elected to the Official Board. Whenever we travelled and looked for a chuurch, we found that independant, non-denominational churches that called themselves "Bible" churches had a marvelous unity in spite of the outward independance, because the inerrancy and authority of the Word of God was trusted and preeminant in each case. So when it was my duty to publish the Doctrinal Statement of our church, I felt compelled to introduce it with a statement that it was not a Creed to supercede Scripture, but simply the result of trusting the inerrancy and authority of the Word of God. With the guidance of sound preaching and teaching, Donna and I became faithful students of the Word of God, and used the Berean method and inductive study to judge doctrinal positions.
We raised three sons, and as they approached their 'teens, I added a second floor to the house in Cedar Grove to accomodate them. (I did most of the work myself because when I was a teen, I helped my father, who had been a carpenter, raise the roof for me and my three younger brothers.) Soon afterward, a baby sister arrived which our sons dotingly guarded. And after the last son was married and the house became less crowded, you would think that we would move to a smaller house, but no, we moved to a bigger house in nearby Verona.
The bigger house had been owned by Jim and Lynn Kraakevik, who worked at the nearby SIM International Headquarters and went to our church. They were moving to Wheaton, IL where Jim became the director of the new Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. They had hosted a weekly Bible study in the house because of the large room in the back. Donna, who had attended the study before it had moved to the Kraakevik house, and before she worked at SIM, was very disappointed that the Bible study would stop because of the Kraakevik's move. Donna suggested to me, "I think we should buy that house so that I can host the Bible study there." It seemed crazy, but as we discussed it and prayed about it, I could see the hand of God in it. We could afford it, so we moved.
Some time after the Bible study group disbanded, Donna started her own Bible study and named it SHARON, both a reference to the Rose of Sharon and an acronym: Seeking His Abundance, Receiving Our Nourishment. For women that missed a class and had a computer, I created a website that stored the lessons and made them available to print. That was a precursor of the website for the Sharon Bible School ministry.
Shortly after retiring, I started a blog: http://jamesmclark.blogspot.com and I blogged about a wide variety of subjects: origami, creationism and evolution, childhood memories, science and engineering, poetry, home projects, and biblical topics. The idea of mixing topics was more than the fact that I had a wide range of interests; I hoped that readers attracted to one topic would discover biblical topics and references.
When I got onto Facebook, I at first debated evolutionists, using science to show that the theory of molecules-to-man evolution was unscientific. Sure, there are small variations of species, as all complex designs need self-adjustment mechanisms. But the assumption that these small variations can be extrapolated without limit is contrary to all other science. I had become an expert in Information Theory and System Design, and had kept current with other areas of science throughout my career in applied science, and I used this knowledge to defend creationism. I could easily defeat evolutionism by science, but I didn't try to do it by the Bible, because that would not convince someone without faith in the Bible. However, I could not convince anyone, not even by science. I eventually came to realize that the evolutionists have polluted our schools and even science itself by replacing traditional experimental method with could-have-been story-telling (science fiction).
On Facebook, I turned to theological discussions. I was dismayed by the belligerent tone of so many (professed) Christians, who readily called their opponents "apostate" or "working for the devil". I cautioned them to treat their (supposed) brothers with love, or at least courtesy. And I immediately recognized that I was just another stranger to them, so I could not present myself as an authority. God's Word was the only authority, so my "PC Study Bible" program was constantly in use for easy search, copy, and paste. I think some overseas pastors noticed my posts and appreciated my polite and thoughtful presentation of God's Word, and this was another precursor of the Sharon Bible School ministry.
And then the Lord gave me a tract ministry, using the same publishing methods used for the lessons. After I discovered that on average, one soul is saved for every 20 to 50 cents spent on tracts, I cannot resist sending money whenever one of the pastors wants more tracts. And I always remind them that soul-winning must be followed by discipleship.
The total number of tracts printed since the ministry started in June of 2015 is now expected to reach two million tracts by the end of the year 2019. (For the latest progress of the tract ministry, see http://www.sharonbibleschool.org/Tracts/Status/ ) Did I do all that? No. I know the names of 314 pastors that have distributed those tracts, and there are probably more. And each of those pastors have volunteers that knock on doors and give the tracts to people. And none of those "soul-winners" as they are sometimes called, saved any souls. That was the work of God's Word and the Holy Spirit speaking to hearts. "God gave the increase" (1 Cor.3:7). It's wonderful to see God at work, and I feel incredibly priviledged to be in the middle of it.
===== More Stories =====
I have written about significant times when God directed my life through prayer, so I collected and copied them here, because I believe that these are important testimonies of God's grace in my life that can be a blessing to others:
"Early Lessons in Prayer"
"How I Know That God Wanted Me to be an Engineer"
"Prayer in the Workplace"
Early Lessons in Prayer
Being brought up in a Christian home, I learned about prayer at an early age. And I found that you really learn about prayer not by being taught or by talking about it, but by experience.
The earliest experience I remember was when I was four or five years old. I was laying on my back on the bottom level of a bunk bed that I shared with one of my brothers. I was supposed to be getting to sleep, but instead I was thinking about what I'd heard in church about God answering prayer. I had a piece of tin-foil, and I rolled it in my hands as I wondered how prayer worked. They said you could ask things of God, and he would answer you. He could do anything, even things that were impossible for people. I squeezed and rolled the tin-foil, making a little shiny ball. I ought to try this; see if it really works.
I looked at my little ball. It looked like silver, which I heard was expensive, but I knew it was just cheap tin-foil. I heard that gold was even more expensive than silver. A gold ball like that would be quite valuable. I could ask God to turn it into gold. So I tucked my little ball into the sheet under the mattress above me, and asked God to turn it into gold by the next morning.
Next morning, I looked -- it was still tin-foil as before, and I pondered why God hadn't changed it. It wasn't because he couldn't -- after all, he had created the whole world. He just didn't want to do it. It obviously wasn't important to do; it was only for my entertainment, I realized. So I concluded that God didn't want to be a magician that entertained people with miracles. He must reserve miracles for important occasions.
The next prayer experience I remember was when I was six years old. My oldest sister had recently married, and was now living across town. My Mom and another older sister were explaining to me where it was, relative to the school that I walked to. "You could walk over there and visit her, see her new house", they assured me. "Just walk past the school, and take the next left." They described landmarks and drew a map to make it clearer to me. Finally I was convinced that I could do it. If I couldn't find the house, I would just walk home.
I got to the right street, but finding the right house was a problem. They had given me details describing the house, but it seemed to me that many houses on the street came close to fitting the description. There were so many details, and I think I forgot a few. I walked up and down the street comparing houses to the details I could remember. Finally, I gave up. I would have to walk home and confess my failure.
But I had reversed my direction so many times, now I wasn't sure which way was the way home. I had walked a long way from the end of the street where I started, and there were no side streets, just houses. It was a clouded day, so I couldn't see the sun. Whichever way I walked, I had the nagging feeling that I could be walking further from home and would only have to walk the same distance again. "How could I ask any one to help me? They don't know where I live", I thought.
So I prayed, asking God to help me find my way home. After I prayed, the thought came to me: "All I need to do is find out which way is south. People here would know which way is south." So I found some kids in front of their house, and asked them. "I'll go ask my Mom", one of them said. When they came back out of the house, they pointed down the street: "That way."
So I found my way home. As I passed the school, I thought "God does answer prayer -- when it's important."
How I Know That God Wanted Me to be an Engineer
When I was a child, I wondered what I would be when I grew up. As a young Christian, it seemed that being a pastor would be the highest aspiration a boy could have, and for a while I assumed that that was the right choice. But I was always trying to invent things, and sometimes managed to complete something that actually worked. I spent many hours making drawings of things, and when Dad got home, I often knelt on the floor alongside his chair explaining my drawings to him. My most ambitious project was a mechanical calendar that would be attached below a wall clock. Once a day, at midnight, it would highlight the next day, and at the end of the month, it would automatically move the numbers to new appropriate positions. I designed machinery for most of the functions, but the design was never completed.
So when I got to high school, my parents encouraged me to plan on a college education with an engineering emphasis. I had three brothers, 1, 3, and 4 years younger, who I knew would also be straining the family budget for college funds, so I felt responsible for getting summer jobs to earn as much money myself as I could. Every summer I found a different job, sometimes more than one if the job didn't last all summer long.
When I graduated from high school, I was set to enroll in the Engineering School of NYU, and I started searching for a summer job again. I would pack a lunch, get on my bike and go from one business to another asking for a job -- any job -- I was willing to do anything. I did this eight hours a day, and after a week of this, I became very discouraged, and it finally dawned on me that I should have been praying about it. I also began to doubt whether I had made the right career choice. Perhaps I was being selfish to pursue what I loved rather than what I used to think was God's best choice -- being a pastor or a missionary.
I began by apologizing to God for not praying earlier. And I explained that I was worried that the longer it took to find a job, less of the summer would be left for working the job. Then I began to agonize about the career choice. Was this failure to find a job God's way of telling me that I was heading down the wrong path?
God, I thought you wanted me to be an engineer. Why else would you give me these creative urges, and this curiosity about math and physics? Somebody needs to support the pastors and missionaries with more lucrative jobs, don't they?
I felt that I needed an answer SOON, and I didn't want to waver -- I wanted to be CERTAIN that I was doing what God wanted, and would bless. I thought about Gideon and his fleece (Judges 6:36-40). God made the fleece wet with dew and the ground dry to indicate his will, and the next night made the fleece dry and the ground wet to indicate his will again. Could I DARE do something like that with God? But who was I to give God an ultimatum? Yet Gideon did it TWICE, just to confirm an answer that he had ALREADY gotten twice (v. 14-16) with a previous sign from God (v. 17-21). And Gideon was not scolded for his boldness. God had answered my prayers before -- why not now, for this important decision?
So, apologizing for my boldness, I told God that having spent a week in my own strength, without prayer and without success, I would give Him one week more to find me a job. I would go looking as before, and if I got a job in a week or less, I would know that he wanted me to go to NYU and learn to be an engineer. If not, I would know that it was the wrong choice, and I would need to find out what else God had in mind.
One week. To be absolutely sure, one week exactly. I opened my eyes and looked at my watch. It was 6:00 pm on Saturday. On the dot. And I didn't tell anyone about my deal with God. It was just between me and God.
I packed a lunch and went out on my bike every day as before. Strangely, after that tense and agonizing prayer, by the end of the week I had nearly forgotten about the prayer -- at least it wasn't always on my mind.
The next Saturday, I got home a little before supper. Dad said it would be nice to have fresh corn on the cob, and asked me to come with him to the roadside stand across the state line where we often went for fresh-from-the-farm produce. I said "Yes", and soon we were there. After we bought our corn, Dad explained that I was looking for a job, and asked if they needed help on the farm. The man took one look at me, and said "Yes, I could use him." And to me, he added "Come here Monday morning at eight."
That completely took me by surprise. Oh, yes, the prayer! I looked at my watch. It was 6:00 pm on Saturday. On the dot.
God answered my prayer! Not only that, he answered it at the last minute to assure me that He was in absolute TOTAL CONTROL. Not only that, he provided the job with absolutely no reliance on any of my effort. I didn't speak a word. My Dad did all the talking.
That prayer -- that deal with God -- was such a strong anchor during the tough times at NYU. It was a tough grind. I was told that a third of the students didn't make it through the freshmen year, and another third dropped out before graduation. It's one thing to have an interest in engineering, and quite another to have talent. I had some talent, but I wasn't a genius. There were times when it seemed that I was in over my head, but whenever I wondered if I would get though it, I would remember my deal with God, and His amazing answer, and I just KNEW that He would get me through it.
And He did. I got a job with ITT within a month of graduating, and worked there for 43 years. I tried to work "as unto the Lord" and share my faith with others. I prayed for help with my engineering challenges, and He blessed my work. I was credited with 45 patents, but I give the credit to God. Most of the work was for military communications and security, and I prayed that God would use these things to keep our country safe from its enemies.
I never felt guilty for having a secular job, and I knew that my job was to help support the pastors and missionaries. Of my three brothers and I, two of us became engineers and two became pastors. One of them later became a missionary.
Prayer in the Workplace
I've always felt that there is no area of life that is off-limits for God. So during my career as an electronics engineer, I've prayed for help with the technical stuff, not just people problems, etc. It's obvious to me that God is an engineer, too. (We're always copying his designs.) So why shouldn't he be interested in engineering matters, and know how they should be handled?
I was always taking challenges that strain my innate abilities. One area of strain is math -- I'm no mathematician, but I've had to use it, and learn it, to get the job done. Mathematicians create new mathematical knowledge, and are concerned with proofs, but not so for engineers. Engineers only use math as a tool, as needed. We are content to use unproven and approximate math -- as long as it works for us. So I've learned only a few specialized areas of math that I needed, like it or not, and only as much as needed.
God often answered my prayers for help with engineering matters, but one case stands out in my mind... (skipping the details)
I didn't know any math that would help. I didn't even know the language to be able to search for whatever specialized math might be applicable to such an odd problem. I was in need of prayer, and I had been praying.
I sometimes pray while driving. I was driving home, pondering my math problem and praying, and an idea came to me... (skipping the details)
Then the problem that I thought would need a million computers working for a million years to solve was now solved by one computer in less than a minute.
I know I'm not that smart. But I know that God answers prayer. Even for weird math problems.