Given by Stephen C. Marcy at a Gideon’s Banquet in December 2009 in Dix Hills, NY. / Revised Jan. 24, 2020
Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
My name is Stephen Marcy and I was invited to give a brief testimony regarding the influence of God’s Word in my life. The Gideon’s ministry of Bible distribution – with a little different twist – plays an important part in this story.
My conversion testimony is the kind you’ll hear often from those who grew up in a Christian family. My parents faithfully brought us to church, taking steps to ensure our spiritual well-being. I always knew the gospel and came to a point of personal acceptance of Jesus as my Savior as a young adolescent. Indeed, I even did it a few more times in the years that followed just to make sure I was really saved!
Although I was a believer, my teen years lacked substantial inner motivation and direction. During those years our family attended Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in Malverne, NY. It was in 1977 when I was eighteen years old, that two godly men in our church, Franz Mohr and Ron Coners, invited me to apprentice as a concert piano technician for Steinway & Sons in the renowned “concert basement” on 57th street in Manhattan. I accepted their offer. It was better than pipe and sewer cleaning, which is what I was doing at the time!
It was then that the “Gideon-part” of this testimony takes place. You know the parable of the Sower. The farmer sows his seed and it falls on different terrains – a path, rocks, thorns, and good soil. Well, perhaps we can include dumpsters too! What do you mean dumpsters you say? Well, in the loading dock of our building, I happened to spot a Gideon New Testament lying on top of the garbage in a dumpster. I thought enough of the Bible not to let it be thrown away, so I took it out. That little New Testament became my constant companion at work and on my subway and bus rides to and from work every day. I began to read it more and more. Although I was a Christian for years, I began to enjoy its truths and inquire into its message more deeply. The seed of the Word was planted in my heart through that Gideon New Testament and it began to take root.
It was also a great encouragement for me to be able to spend time talking about the Bible with Franz and Ronnie who also loved and studied it. Soon God’s Word and His Spirit instilled in me a desire for reading good Christian literature. Franz, Ronnie and I could easily satisfy our reading addiction at the Calvary Baptist Church bookstore which was just a few doors down on 57th street. We read C. H. Spurgeon, A. W. Tozer, E. M. Bounds, D. L. Moody, Andrew Murray, John Owen, Francis Schaeffer, John Bunyan, F. B Meyer, C.S. Lewis and anything else we could get our hands on. I read these authors wanting to know about their lives and Christian experiences. The Bible was central to their whole life. I read to understand the meaning of the Bible as they experienced it, preached it, taught it and lived it. I thought, perhaps my life too could reflect what I was reading about in these men of God.
That is when I read “Shadow of the Almighty,” the life story of Jim Elliot. You recall his words: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” I could not put that book down. Reading his story was a turning point in my life. Like Jim Elliot, I wanted to know God more and to serve Him. I began to realize that the Bible was indeed God’s revelation to us about himself and our world. I thought if indeed I was in possession of God’s very revelation of himself to us, then what else could be more important in life than knowing this book. It was indispensable to know this book, for how else would I get to know God. And to know God, like Jim Elliot knew God, surely must be what life is all about.
It was also through that book that I first heard about Wheaton College. I thought to myself, Jim Elliot attended Wheaton. If only I too could go there to study the Bible maybe I would know God better and serve him too. In the fall of 1980 I began my freshman year at Wheaton and a great adventure of learning God’s word and growing in Him began.
I mention this to testify to God’s grace and the life changing power that comes through the Word. Even when faithless and indifferent to Him, He always is gracious and faithful to me. That little Gideon Bible was used of God to change the course of my life. That is the way the Spirit works – through the Word. The privilege of formally studying his Word was an act of his grace, and a portion of that grace came to me through a small Gideon New Testament, discarded, but not without purpose nor rendered powerless. When the Word goes out, even into a dumpster, it does not return void!
Christmas will soon be here. That is when the Word became flesh. But what is the implication of the Word becoming flesh? It is that we are confronted with the call of Jesus, that Living Word, first to come to the point of decision regarding eternal destiny and then to deny self, take up our cross and follow him. We can either embrace life that is truly life – the very life that is uniquely meaningful with its purpose and fulfillment designed and implemented by God himself, or remain in death both now and for eternity, which will be the result of living for self and the world. Here’s the hitch, to gain your life you must lose it for Christ’s sake and you cannot avoid that decision. It was Soren Kierkegaard who said,
“No man shall presume to leave Christ’s life in abeyance as a curiosity. When God lets himself be born and become man, this is not an idle caprice, some fancy he hits upon just to be doing something, perhaps to put an end to the boredom that has brashly been said must be involved in being God – it is not in order to have an adventure. No, when God does this, then this fact is the earnestness of existence. And, in turn, the earnestness in this earnestness is: that everyone shall have an opinion about it.”
I will never forget sitting in the balcony of Wheaton’s Edman Chapel viewing the film footage of the discovery of the bodies of the five missionaries killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. The Word became flesh and Jim Elliot therefore had to have an opinion about it. His opinion was an affirmative full surrender. Jim Elliot’s life – and death – would not be the same because of the Word he heard and the Word he followed. He denied himself, took up his cross and followed Christ. Jesus was crucified. Jim Elliot ended up pierced and hacked to death, floating face down in the Curaray River. As I viewed that film, the Spirit of God was so heavy upon me that I sobbed uncontrollably. I felt that I was taken into a privileged and holy place. I was witnessing the real meaning of life and lives that had and still have real meaning because Christ was not just their Savior but their Lord. I had a profound sense of sadness and loss, as if my best friends were now dead. That they were actually murdered for Christ is what moved me so. I recall a sense of the huge difference between the focus of my life and that of these men. Did my Christianity include Christ as Lord? In fact, is this complete surrender the very definition of what it means to be a Christian?
Once again I was experiencing the grace of God. He was changing me by allowing me to view the results of the cosmic struggle that unfolded in the lives and deaths of these missionaries. These men gave up legitimate desires, personal comforts and pleasures, the company of loved ones, and even their own lives for Christ and His kingdom. They were not men of this world. They did not have careers, money and investments, houses and lands, cars and boats, friends and family as their highest priority. Indeed, you cannot and also hear and follow the Word. You don’t end up dead in a jungle attempting to bring the Gospel to people who have never heard it if your life revolves around the things you own and your personal comforts and appearance. You just don’t.
Getting back to the Gideon New Testament – we find it shocking that someone would show such disregard for the Bible by throwing into a dumpster! But, maybe as evangelical Christians we too, have for all practical purposes, disposed of the Bible. The parable of the Sower speaks of the Word falling among thorns – that is, choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures and so it does not mature. Do we not show disregard for the Word when the worries, riches and pleasures of this life take precedence over the Word? So how is the soil of our lives? Is it “thorny” with anxious materialist and hedonist preoccupations so that there is no interest in or time for God’s Word? Evangelical theologian, Carl Henry writes,
“As Christians we need to tune our spirits to…the God who speaks his own word, the God who shows himself throughout the cosmos and history, and who supremely shows himself in Jesus Christ. This Divine Speaker is waiting for people to converse with him, to spend unhurried time with him, the God of the Ages, the Eternal One… Activism today so hurries evangelical worship, prayer, and Bible reading, theological study and reflection, that we risk becoming practical atheists steeped in this worldly priorities. Theological renewal is a farce apart from time for God in his Word. Is it too much to ask Christians in favored North America, in their struggle to be evangelically authentic, to do their theological homework once again, to feast on mighty truths that can rebuff the blows of an ungodly age, to learn biblical lessons before the sword and dungeons overtake them? “Be still,” says Yahweh. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)…”
Therefore, a word of appreciation is in order to all pastors and teachers who are true to the Scriptures. In a day when the authority of the Word is blatantly rejected by denominational bodies, subtly eroded through a “what-this-verse-means-to-me” study approach, or choked out by our worldly lifestyles, these pastors and teachers are true shepherds who adhere to biblical authority, sound interpretation and convicting application. They study it intensely, teach it completely and call us to obey it. I think I am correct in saying that it is the heart-cry and greatest delight of every godly pastor and teacher that we respond to the Word preached and taught and walk in its truth.
Again, Carl Henry writes, “The fate of the Bible is the fate of Christianity and even of civilization itself. If the world neglects or evangelicals forsake this Book, the end result is society’s inevitable theological, spiritual, and moral suicide.”
So thank you Gideons for spreading the Word and thank you pastors and teachers for preaching and teaching the Word. May God continue to grant you the words and courage to fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel to a people who desperately need to hear and obey the truth.