Mark Rutland Story

As a young teenager in North Florida, I had an experience with Jesus Christ that I just couldn't quite seem to shake off.

It happened in Port St. Joe, Florida at the Methodist Church. One summer a young student from Asbury College in Kentucky was hired as a summer youth director at First Methodist, where my family and I attended.

Jack Taylor, the new youth director, hit our youth group like an A-bomb. Young, attractive, tanned and athletic, he used his genuine humility and humor to great advantage. We went, did, played, and "activities" at an unprecedented pace. It was powerful gravity to pull a straying adolescent back to the church. All the while, Jack presented the claims of Christ frankly and calmly.

After I was caught in a stupid mistake, I found myself being blackmailed into going to a church camp. On the last night, I refused to go in the worship service, but hid out in the woods, smoking cigarettes and feeling very tough and free compared to all the nice little church kids. I thought I had it made until a huge male counselor from Alabama found me.

"You're going into that service," he said.
"Who's gonna make me?" I demanded in my best tough guy voice.
"That's just what I was hoping you'd say," he whispered darkly, as he pulled his belt off.

Seizing me by the back of my collar, he dragged and whipped me cussing and kicking up the hill to the auditorium. I have never before or since had such a licking as he gave me that night. At last, he threw open the door to the "tabernacle" and dragged me ignobly into the back row, where he stood over me, belt in hand, and whispered, "Just move. I'm begging you to move."

I remember thinking that this was all a new brand of Christianity to me. Blackmailed and beaten, I had no choice but to pay attention to the first meaningful gospel message of my life. It turned out to also be the most important one I was to ever hear. There, I had to face the preacher's firm and clear insistence that death without Jesus meant eternal hell. This message scraped agonizingly across my raw nerves until that August night in the suffocating heat, I stepped out from the back row and made my way up the center aisle.

As I walked up that aisle, wanting only forgiveness and salvation, a shocking and alien thought pushed its way into my mind and insistently demanded attention. It was like an announcement, a declaration of self to soul. I nearly said the words aloud as I walked toward the front.

I must preach. I am to be a preacher. This is what my life is to be-- A preacher? The thought was amazing to me. Even as I prayed with Jack at the altar to ask Jesus into my heart, the urgency of the thought grew. By the time the prayer of faith was finished, I felt compelled to share the thought with Jack.
"Now that you're saved," he answered, "God has the right to direct your life. Let me pray with you."

He placed his hands on my head and began to pray. He prayed that God would either lift the sense of the call or confirm it. Then he prayed that having done that, God would never release me from it. He urged the Lord to melt any disobedience on my part with unmitigated force on His part. "Break him, bend him, take everything he holds dear," he prayed, "until he obeys the call and claim on his life in Jesus' name, Amen."

Such ruthlessness in prayer was remarkable to my conservative, Methodist heart. It made an indelible impression on me and frightened me more than a little at the moment.

I was compelled toward the Methodist ministry: First, an unquestionable call of God. I could not hope to understand it. I did not pretend to particularly like it. Yet I could not deny it. At times (many times, if I am honest). I was more assured of my call to preach than of my salvation. Second, a growing conviction in the truth of evangelical theology. Based more upon experience and vaguely remembered sermons from my youth in Florida than upon up-to-date reality in my own personal relationship with God, this conviction was at the core of my life at that time.

I knew that salvation was by faith in the atoning work of Christ. I knew that the mushy liberalism and social-gospel message that seemed to engulf the Methodism of the late 60's and early 70’s were insufficient. That I knew for sure. What I did not know was power in my own life.

During my ministry I had doubts of my salvation, suicidal thoughts, depression, and anger issues just to name a few. I had preached against the Holy Spirit, but my life was about to change. God moved on the heart of Dr. Boleyn, my senior minister, along with a handful of other Spirit-filled pastors, to put together a conference on the Holy Spirit. Directing it totally toward ministers and importing speakers from out of the area, they found an amazing response. One hundred and fifty pastors registered-- but not I.

The very title of the conference irritated me - "Conference on Power for Ministry Today." I did not know what a conference on the Holy Spirit was, but I did not like the sound of it. I told Dr. Boleyn I could not attend because of a shortage of funds. He paid my way!

At the conference Ralph Wilkerson looked me hard in my eyes and then spoke with a fatherly love. "You're a Christian. I perceive that you've prayed the sinner's prayer until you're sick of it. You just have no power. Don't you want to receive the Holy Spirit?"

When I spoke, I heard myself say, "Yes! Oh, God, yes. Please help me to know this power. I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit." I knew my spirit had finally answered instead of my prideful, egotistical intellect. I was broken in my brokenness and the shattered pieces were finally at the feet of the Master.
Wilkerson led me in a simple prayer of full devotement. Something like, "Jesus, be my Lord. I give You everything-- My house, My family, My possessions." I repeated each phrase without hesitation until he prayed, "And I give You my ministry and my future. Send me anywhere."

That stuck in my throat. I knew that was very near the heart of my sin; even more than the immorality in my life. It had always been "my ministry" and "my future." If I truly gave it to Jesus, I might spend the next forty years in some nine-point charge in South Alabama, labeled as the "conference nut." I sensed intuitively that I was tottering on the brink of kissing my chances of being elected bishop good-bye.

The Lord gave grace and somehow I knew that 40 years in a nine-point charge with the peace of God would be infinitely better than the high-steepled hell I was in. Just as I finished that prayer, Dr. Ralph Wilkerson reached out his hands and laying them on my head, he said with authority, "Now, receive the Holy Spirit."

In that very second, the Lord Jesus Christ poured His sanctifying grace into me in a visitation of divine presence I had scarcely ever dreamed of. I was, in that very moment, literally immersed, drenched, filled, baptized in the Holy Spirit I had blasphemed in my ignorant pride. Oh, glory to God! There was no tingling, no sense of electric current, no "waves of liquid love," just the most exultant in-rush of peace, forgiveness, grace, and power I had ever known.

The first person I ever heard speak in tongues was me. Wilkerson said, "Open your mouth and praise God." When I did, out poured a heavenly language that astonished me. The delightful reality made me laugh out loud, even in my tears. God had given me the gift I used to preach against! I knew the Comforter had come. The sweet Holy Spirit of Jesus had taken up residence. Baptized with the Holy Spirit? I was! I surely was.

Since that December 5, 1975, God has shown me miracles, gifts, signs, and wonders. Six weeks later, my wife surrendered her skepticism and sought the infilling of the Holy Spirit at the altar of Oak Grove Church. The immediate transformation of our home life was a daily miracle. My parents were soon filled with the Spirit. I have preached in many countries, traveled far, seen thousands saved, watched the crippled get up and walk and the mute speak. I have seen the things proven which I preached against for seven years.

Despite all this, however, any man anywhere who asks me what difference the sanctifying flame of this baptism has made in my life, I would not answer with any of these. I would simply say, "I am a happy man."

 

 

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