From the early times of the Lord drawing our little band of believers together to reach our city with the Good News three things seemed to repeat in our burdens of prayer. One was the Mustard Seed to be birthed. Also the great need to stir up the other churches in the area by sending out letters to them calling for revival. And finally, another Christian bookstore was needed in Muskegon to be a center to propel the message of revival and spiritual awakening across the land.
The bookstore would take a lot of money that we did not have. Our burden for this came from the Lord so at first we only prayed that someone would start this store. Over time I began to see it was not someone else but it was us. So Barb began to send letters to Christian ministries and book suppliers even before the coffee house opened. But the money did not come then and so we had to wait and wait. And as I already shared, we focused on the Mustard Seed which opened first.
But in the midst of these events God was pressing ahead in my spiritual development. As Paul wrote, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;” Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)
Looking back today, I can see the Lord stopped babying me sometime before my third spiritual birthday (September 1974) and began to lay His heavy hand of discipline upon me. I had no idea what was going on and I struggled.
It was time I began to learn to walk by faith, not by sight. Originally I lived off “feeling the presence of God” since my spiritual birth in 1971, but being dragged into walking by faith was not pleasant! I was not a very good disciple and 1975 became the year I thought God was abandoning me and experienced a spiritual crisis. I have found many other Christians before me struggled in the same way and coined the phrase “the dark night of the soul.”
I scratched out a little prayer on the back of a Ninth Street Baptist visitor card, “I have no fellowship with you, Father God, Not fellowship with a Book, group, feeling, or anything will satisfy my longing for YOU.” I fought and begged for His presence to come back, I had no desire to simply trust His Word. That was a mistake!
On one side we were greatly blessed, and the other side I “felt” completely cut off from God. The Lord would give strong impressions from His word to reassure me and try to teach me to trust Him. I wrote…
12-18-74 “The Lord gave us a promise as he did the apostles just before Pentecost – Jer. 5:10-14 “I will make my words in your mouth fire, and the people wood, and it shall consume them.”
12-31-74 “Didn’t keep up my diary. The Lord gave me a wife this year (wedding day coming May 10, 1975). Opened and closed our coffee house ministry. We are in preparation for a Bible Conference Feb. 14,15. We are sending out letters to encourage revival. Still need to be free completely from sin (lust, impatience and slothfulness). Began rising early Dec 29 at 6:00 AM.”
That did not last long…
1-4-75 “Obedience is better than sacrifice… Wed was New Years, stayed up too late, disobeyed couldn’t rise, since then haven’t heard the alarm. I’m lost. I disobeyed and lost God’s grace. I’m a rebel. I give up. I can’t serve God, or pray, or preach, or do anything. I can’t stand my condition. I’m empty, alone, and sinful. I get tempted and sin. My conscience is hard, I don’t feel guilty. Empty words, my experience is shallow. God’s Word is so full, but most is out of my experience. I’m powerless to win souls, to see conviction of sin.”
I never saw how big the prayers were that we were praying, or how big a fight we were fighting, or how big a faith we needed to survive 1975.
Because of my experience in Florida with Peter Lord and the Mini-ministerial Conference in the spring of 1973, we were able to secure him to lead our Bible Conference. And as expected the Lord greatly blessed and encouraged us along with those from the other Baptist churches in our association. Peter is a man of God and his words were flung into my heart and I’m sure many others. You can watch one of his messages here.
Things seemed great. But not long after this spiritual war broke out.
A high school student I hired to work for me at Zephyr was open to talk a bit about the gospel so I gave him a Chick tract to take home and read. Next time I saw him I asked if he read it and he said no, he lost it. So I gave him another but with the same exact result. If I remember right it even happened again. It was weird!
I prayed harder. Finally, he came to work one day and said it was really weird he was like blind because he could not see those tracts I gave him. Finally they appeared in plain sight in his bedroom and were there all the time. He read them and he wanted to follow Jesus.
But a huge spiritual battle began. I went over to his house to pray with him and demonic forces took control and he was physically oppressed. He was pressed to the floor and I watched him try to get up and as he was pushing with his arms quivering it appeared he had a 500 pound weight on his back. His face turned bright red in his great effort to get up. But he failed. We were shocked and a little scared so we prayed much, and I screamed at the devil to leave him alone. He was delivered by the power of Jesus.
From this time on we found ourselves in these battles for many months. We were under a counterattack from hell because God was saving the lost! And believe me we had no idea what was going on.
Not long after that, Arnold and his girl friend joined us at Ninth Street and she asked us to pray for her because she needed help too. In our ignorance some of us met them on Wednesday night but an hour before our weekly prayer gathering. With my inexperience and no one else having a clue the enemy was about to ambush us we prayed and asked God to help her.
The next thing I know she is raging, cursing, screaming, and throwing things at me. Shocked we sobered instantly and got real in our cries to the Lord. The battle for her soul raged on for more than an hour and we freaked out everyone who came for our normal prayer meeting. My family came and my little sister was scared to death from the experience also. We sent them all to the basement for some real praying while we finished and saw God bring peace and salvation.
Donnie and Connie also started following Jesus about this time and we found out that Connie was working for Gospel Films. They rented 16mm films to churches all over the country and movies left in their warehouse on the weekends were free for the employees to take home. Well that sure sounded like an open door!
We purchased a 16mm projector and began showing Jesus movies every place that would let us. God opened many doors and we ran through them sharing the gospel. We even ended up showing films in a teen detention center!
Also we continued to go and preach the gospel and even got into the jail to share the gospel, we continued passing out tracts everywhere, and gathered back together to fellowship from house to house, and stir each other up in the faith every week at Ninth Street.
Cheryl and I slowed down a little to focus on our upcoming May 10th wedding. We had a nice outdoor wedding with all our friends and family. Then we hit the road to Florida for our honeymoon adventure we later wished we had a do over! During our vacation my trusty 1965 Chevy van died and we had to spend a bunch to get it repaired. We finally made it to Disney and had fun, but after that we traveled further south to Hobe Sound where my Aunt Grace and Uncle “Coffee” built a vacation home about a mile from the beach. Oh and she gave us the keys before we left Michigan.
But then the real nightmare began. Like in some horror movie the house was completely infested with huge palmetto bugs. Yes, that means giant roaches! We went to bed but heard noises and turned on the lights to see them crawling all over the walls, floor, flying across the bed, and on the bed! How romantic and refreshing!
We jumped out of bed, grabbed our stuff and fled out to our van to sleep in the hot and stuffy mini-motel room with shag carpet in a warm Florida night. Well this getaway was not the honeymoon we dreamed of.
Since our money was mostly gone and we could not afford to stay in a hotel for the rest of our vacation we stayed with relatives. Yeah! With our love tested fully from day one we traveled back to Michigan to get back to our new life of trials and tribulations together for Christ our Lord.
Well in spite of my rocky road of spiritual lessons and interaction with the Lord, we pressed ahead during the summer and went back to Pere Marquette to reach the lost, but without Dave and his chalk talks. This year we converted my van into a mobile movie projector booth, built a portable and large movie screen, and joyfully showed gospel films in our brand new open air movie theater. The crowds were still large and some people would sneak up in the dark to watch movies and then quickly slip away. Most did not want to talk to us about Jesus but they saw and heard the gospel through the films we got from Connie.
But first I wrote in my diary…
May 30, 1975 “Now married, living in a very comfortable apartment, the Lord is too gracious it seems. I hope I can be kept in his favour, and humbled more.”
“Need power, way more power to see hearts changed, prayer prevailing, and conversions in the power of God and not the wisdom of man.”
“It seems basic training is still coming along.
I. I see my source of life and power for service is in Christ, through the Holy Spirit working in me. I feel weak, weak to pray, weak to do anything. It seems good to know what I am, and what God already knows about me. I want nothing else but His presence, ever conscious presence. His gifts and graces are great, but without His presence, it seems meaningless. I think I can be satisfied without these things if I can know His presence. (Obviously I was not getting the idea of walking by faith and His graces and spiritual gifts were His hand of blessing so I fought against God for a long time.)
II. I see more and more my warfare is with the Satanic forces and I am learning prayer is the only way to victory.
III. It seems now I’m learning more about the “sword”, the message that must be proclaimed. Learning valuable lessons from Finney, Edwards, Thomas Brooks, etc. which wouldn’t have understood before, but are pressing into my understanding now.
- False grace compared to true grace
- False repentance compared to true repentance
- False professors
- True saints
- False teachers
Oh Lord, how long do we have to wait for revival?”
All through the summer I battled my doubts because I could not let go of God’s merciful presence He gave to sustain me when I was first born again. And we prayed and prayed for God’s divine guidance.
6-26-75 “Jer 14:7 ‘O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, act for your name’s sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against You.’”
7-13-75 “…This morning laying before the Lord for His will with this bookstore. I asked if it was not His will to stop us from getting the building.”
7-14-75 “Dark days, been there a long time. Read Madame Guyon – she went through it for seven years. Watchman (Nee) says all must pass through if God will ever use you for His purposes. Jer. 23 – tells how God crushes and spoils pride, by hiding you under a rock, for awhile.”
7-28-75 “…Spiritually destitute, cannot pray… When I try to pray, I fail. It seems I will never learn faith, and come into communion with God. Death!! I helplessly, hopelessly, wait for God’s sovereignty as He first moved in my life. Everything is empty, unsatisfying, and unhelpful without His presence. With His presence I know all things are sweet… Still waiting on answer for bookstore, I get excited talking about the store, but I really seem content to go without, if God wills. Maybe I’ve deceived myself. I will wait and see. The answer will come.”
I finally wrote a desperate prayer to my God…
8-31-75 “Dear Heavenly Father… Forgive me, Forgive me, I don’t want to grumble. I want no limits on you or to question You. Make me silently, humbly, trustfully obedient to all things that come my way. Teach me to praise and trust you in spite of afflictions and trials. Feelings and no feelings should be no value to me, but they are. I’m very weak and sickly without your Presence, please do that which is best for me, though. I don’t want an easy route, I want whatever road you have for me. Please help me mean what I have just said… Yours sincerely and truly, a lonely son, Randy Bell”
Well the Lord really answered that prayer. We were re-routed onto a road I was not expecting!
As fall came I started realizing our denomination had slipped under the influence of “liberal” false teachers. Books were being published warning of the situation. It alarmed me and it was finally making sense why a couple of my Bible professors back in Florida spent so much time trying to explain away the miracles of the Bible with convenient coincidences and natural events.
In my naive mind I thought all my fellow Southern Baptist leaders would also be greatly grieved over this disaster and join us in doing something about it.
Our church was to host a now discontinued yearly event called “M” Night for all our sister churches. So I got up and began to share the bad news which was angrily rejected. They began singing the same verse of a hymn over and over again to silence me. Stunned I dejectedly walked outside to the street brokenhearted while everyone marched out and left. I could not believe they were not concerned at all and now fully hated me.
NOTE: In 1979 a Conservative resurgence took place, the Southern Baptist Convention was taken back, and Adrian Rogers became the first Bible believing conservative again to be the president of the SBC Convention. Our fears and concerns were ignored by the Michigan Southern Baptist but this was a miraculous victory.
The rest of the week I prayed and prayed so saddened at what happened. Finally Sunday morning arrived and I rose early, sought the Lord and was overwhelmingly pressed by the Spirit that I was not to preach that day. Confused and unsure what to do, I went to the church building met Mike and told him I was sure God was ordering me to go up into the little upper room and stay there and pray for our church. I was relieved that he already felt the Lord leading him to preach so I climbed the steep stairs and closed myself into the upper room.
I was there for a long time on my knees begging God for answers and His will. Finally I heard the whisper of the Lord, “Your ministry here is finished.” Surprised and even more confused I sat silently trying to get a handle on what was going on. It seemed like an eternity that I waited up in my little office.
Finally Mike and a few of our little band let me know everyone was then gone and poured out the story. Strangers from the other churches showed up with our little old widows who called an emergency meeting without my knowledge and took over, voted in a bunch of strangers as members, and voted me out. Wow the death of our vision!
The end of what God was leading us to do was that day. God revealed it to me, but strangers sealed it. I think I was in shock. I did not know what to do. The Lord was working deeply in me all year “to walk by faith, not by sight.” But I never expected this or was prepared for it. I know He was.
The Mustard Seed was closed in 1974. We were driven out of Ninth Street Baptist in 1975. Now what?
The few who still wanted to walk and serve the Lord together began meeting in our houses. Frankly, I really, really, had no idea what to do. Were all our burdens and ministry in vain? The reality that no place to worship or reach others was available anymore left us very confused. Where do we go from here? So we prayed, stumbled and bumbled to carry on in obedience, worship, fellowship, breaking bread together, and just tried to be faithful to our Lord. But…was God done with us?
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