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Spiritual Journey

From Swinger to Saint

From Shout It From the Housetops
By Pat Robertson

"You are the Lord's guest," the handsome Dutchman said as we looked at the menu in the elegant Philadelphia restaurant. "God is generous, not stingy. He wants you to have the best. Order anything you want."

I was impressed. Even though I had a sneaking suspicion that my mother had asked this missionary-evangelist to invite me to dinner, I could not escape his obvious sincerity. I was used to the expensive bistros around New York, but that a faith missionary should say the Lord had led him to dine at this restaurant where the waiters wore white tie and tails was more than I could comprehend. I thought that God's people wore shabby clothes, baggy trousers, and suit coats that didn't match. I thought they ate hamburger and boiled turnips. But Cornelius Vanderbreggen certainly didn't fit that description.

The headwaiter approached the table. Stiff. Dressed impeccably. Pencil poised over his order pad. I glanced back at my menu, and when I looked up I saw Vanderbreggen pulling a small pamphlet from his coat pocket and handing it over to the waiter. "My name's Cornelius Vanderbreggen," he said warmly. "Here's a little booklet I've written, and I want you to have it."

Evangelism and White Ties

I couldn't believe my eyes. The man was handing the waiter a Gospel tract. I was mortified beyond expression and quickly shifted my eyes back on to the menu again.

Glancing back at the waiter, I saw him standing there, his face set like granite. My image as a swinger was rapidly dissolving. It took all the self-control I could muster to keep from groaning as I placed my order. Beads of perspiration were popping out on my forehead as the protection of the menu was removed and I was once again face to face with this strange man. What had I gotten into? Was my mother to blame for this? I had never had any real contact with "religious" people who did crazy things like handing out tracts in restaurants. What next?

I didn't have to wait long to find out. Vanderbreggen, with no apparent awareness of my embarrassment and mortification reached into his expensive briefcase beside the table and pulled out the biggest, blackest Bible I had ever seen.

"You know, Pat, this afternoon I was reading the Word and ran across an extremely interesting passage. Let me share it with you."

Embarrassed by a Bible

He pushed back the silver and the water glasses, and laying the huge Bible on the table, began to read out loud. I knew I had no choice but to sit there and act like I was listening. I could feel the moisture in the palms of my hands now, and little rivulets of perspiration running down my face. I tried to smile, but sensed my mouth had the shape of a crooked stick. I could feel a hundred pairs of eyes staring at us from all over the room while Vanderbreggen continued to read in a soft voice, accenting his thoughts with occasional gestures.

I tried to speak. "Mr. Vanderbreggen, you know I’m a Southern Baptist and...' I didn't get to finish. I saw the waiter coming. With quick strides he was advancing toward us, a dark scowl on his face. I knew we were about to be humiliated and asked to leave the restaurant. I kept wishing there were some way I could disappear under the table.

And then he was upon us. He cleared his throat. "Ahem..." Vanderbreggen hadn't seen him, or else chose to ignore him. He continued reading aloud from the Bible.

"Ahem." The waiter cleared his throat again. “Sir?” Vanderbreggen looked up innocently. "Sir, there is a lady over at the other table who is wondering what you are discussing." I knew it. I dropped my head in my hands. Here it comes.

The waiter continued in his starched voice. "I gave her the little booklet you gave me. Can you give me another one?"

Had I heard correctly? I looked up as Vanderbreggen reached into his pocket and handed the waiter another tract. "Certainly, brother." He smiled. "By the way, have you ever had a personal experience with Jesus Christ?" This isn't really happening, I thought. "No sir," the waiter said, his eyes seeking the face of my host. "But recently I've been praying that God would help my friend in the hospital. Would this experience help me get through to God?"

Conversing about Christ

I was aghast. Right here in the middle of this plush restaurant these two men were carrying on a conversation about Jesus Christ! "Of course it would. Jesus said, ‘No man cometh to the Father but by me.’" There it was again - the same verse my mother had quoted.

Vanderbreggen gave the waiter his card and invited him to call him. The waiter thanked him and marched stiffly back to his post. I don't know the outcome of that encounter, but I do know that while Vanderbreggen was speaking to the waiter, something was happening to me. Suddenly I found myself sharing some of the deep things in my heart.

"During the past year I've been reading the Bible. Actually I've been devouring it. At times I think God has talked to me from it." I paused, waiting to see how my host would react to such a radical idea. He just smiled. I continued. "I'm convinced God is the only hope for this world." I paused again, waiting for a reaction. Cornelius just nodded his head in agreement. "In fact," I blurted out, "I've decided to enter the ministry. My only problem is how to get out of business without losing everything I've got?"

Vanderbreggen totally ignored my "problem" and asked, "What do you believe about God?" I felt my nervousness return and reached for a roll. "I believe He is the source of all power, the guiding intellect of the universe. Not only that, but I believe He has a destiny for each man's life, and that none of us will ever be happy or productive unless we are in the center of His will." I had said it. I buttered my roll expecting his word of approval.

Something More?

"Pat, any Mohammedan could have told me what you just said. Isn't there something more?"

Suddenly I was oblivious to the surroundings. "Yes, there is something else. I believe Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world." I hesitated. I knew what he wanted, but I had never been willing to say it before.

Now, to my amazement, I heard myself continue, " ... and for my sins, too." As soon as I said it, I looked up at my host. A slight smile was playing over his tanned face. A Bible verse I had learned flooded my consciousness. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus ... thou shalt be saved."

I knew I had been resisting that moment. Several times I had wanted to say it out loud, but never had been able to. Now the words had come from my mouth as well as from my heart, and no one could have been more amazed than I. Yet, even as I said the words, God turned on a light within me.

All my experiences with God so far had been religious -- not spiritual. They had consisted of my search for Him. Now I was beginning to understand His love for me, poured out through Jesus Christ. Every day for the last year I had prayed, "O Lord, in this life grant me the knowledge of thy truth and in the world to come life everlasting." Now suddenly, at this moment, God was answering both prayers.

It was as if I had walked through a curtain, which had separated me from God. Suddenly I knew Him, not just as God, but as Father. And I knew Him because He had come to me in Jesus Christ. I don't think Cornelius actually realized all that was taking place inside me at that moment. We continued our dinner and talked about many things, none of which I can remember. My mind was too caught up in the excitement of the fact that Jesus was God's Son -- my Master!

Cornelius shook my hand and quoted from Proverbs 3:5-6, a Scripture that was to be the guiding principle for my life from that moment on. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
—Philippians 4:13

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