My Story of God’s Grace and Goodness

dr. david olford May 13, 2020

Dear friend,

Romans 8:31-32 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” (NKJV)  

What is written below is in no sense an exposition of this beautiful text of Scripture. The text, though, does provide a special Biblical backdrop for the personal testimony I am about to share.

The beginning of my personal story has direct connections with a golf game.

Actually, like many babies I was born in a hospital, Queen Charlotte’s Hospital – Hammersmith in Greater London, England. From what I have been told, I came very early and I was very sick. That’s where the golf game comes into play, so to speak! My father was away at the time of my birth because I came weeks before I was supposed to arrive. (My mother, of course, was not away.)

I have been told that my father was literally playing golf when he received the news of my arrival and condition. Don’t ask me what hole he was playing at the time. Before you rush to any judgment, be assured that my father was a very faithful pastor. But, let me finish the birth narrative.

My father was playing golf with a wonderful Christian businessman called A. Lindsay Glegg. Sometime between the golf game and catching the train back to London this man, A. Lindsay Glegg, prayed a prayer that moved and encouraged my father. It was such a meaningful prayer that my father promised to name me after this man. So, my name is David Lindsay Olford.

I would meet A. Lindsay Glegg many years later. He was a wonderful Christian businessman and preacher, a blessing to many people including me. I have a golf putter with his name on it, no joke! God mercifully answered prayer for my healing. I have been told that this dear servant of God prayed that God would spare my life and he prayed for my future spiritual life as well.

Beyond the important truth concerning prayer at the beginning of my life, I gladly realize that God extended specific mercy and grace towards me before I had any idea of Him and His love for me. Hallelujah!

In other words, my story does not begin with me, it begins with God’s will, His grace, His goodness, and His love. Remember Romans 5:8! (I am also grateful that I was named David Lindsay Olford rather than David Glegg Olford.)

I was the second of two boys in the Olford family. My older brother is named Jonathan. So, “David” followed. The first three years of my life were lived in Richmond, Surrey, England, where our father pastored the Duke Street Baptist Church (as it was known at that time). I remember little of those first three years, but I do remember being on a boat bringing us to New York City in 1959 (you can do the math concerning my age).

My father was to become the pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in mid-town Manhattan. That was actually a big move for us, leaving family behind. Of course, I was not aware of that sacrifice at the time. I do remember fun trips back to Northern Ireland and England to see relatives occasionally.

As you may have gathered already, I grew up in a Christian home and in a ministry home. What a privilege! I cannot remember a time when I was not aware of the Bible, the Lord Jesus, and the things children learn in a Christ-centered home. So, in a real sense, you could say that it was through my parents and their ministry that I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. I can remember asking Jesus into my heart in my bedroom (on my own) when we lived on the east side of Manhattan.

For some reason, I remember standing behind my bedroom door when I prayed. That experience took place before the age of 10 because we moved when I was 10 to mid-town Manhattan. We moved from the 14th floor of an eastside apartment building to the 14th floor of the “hotel” affiliated with Calvary Baptist Church. We had the unusual experience of living physically above the church.

The ministry of the Word was always important in our lives. I knew that my father believed what he preached, and I believed it also. I was baptized at Calvary Baptist Church. I can’t give you the date. I shared my written testimony with my mother, and I know that meant the world to her.

When I was baptized I shared my testimony to the congregation at a Sunday night service (which was the practice). My father, standing beside me, gave me a baptismal verse (his practice), “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1).

That verse and the following verses would be addressed again by my father when I was ordained at Calvary Baptist Church many years later. Those verses have stayed with me and 2 Timothy 2:2 is really the theme verse of our ministry even now. (Baptism-Ordination-Ministry, yes, a thread of Scripture ties them all together!)

It was a blessing beyond words to grow up in a Christian home and in a church where the Word of God was preached. Godly people visited our home, people filled with the life and love of Jesus that made a huge impression on me. An African Bishop named Festo Kivengere was such a radiant Christian. Dr. Billy Graham, who already had a meaningful relationship with my father, came to our apartment with the “team.” British friends like Stuart Briscoe, Major Ian Major, and Alan Redpath visited with us.  

The significance of this was that I met people who were preaching the same message my father was preaching, and they showed the same love for Jesus. This helped to confirm what I was learning at home and at church. I still remember a Sunday School teacher named Elsworth Jenkins. I don’t remember one thing he said, but I clearly remember how much he loved God’s Word and he wanted us to love the Word as much as he did. Also, I heard the testimonies of people at our church who shared how God had changed their lives. My father had the gift and passion of the “Evangelist,” and that impacted the way he preached and the nature of the ministry at the church and beyond.

I made various spiritual commitments in my early years, attending many meetings and conferences. (By the way, I think it is good to respond personally to every message a person hears from God’s Word.) The most important commitment time as a teenager was in July of 1970. I was in Jamaica (West Indies), when my father was speaking at a “Keswick” Convention in Mandeville.

On the Wednesday night my father spoke on the text, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). That was a night of special surrender. By “special surrender” I mean that I acknowledge in a definite way that I wanted to live in obedience to the Lord Jesus. Those days were special days, very emotional days.

I remember my father (in a sense) letting it all happen without trying to direct it beyond the preached Word itself. I really do believe that the Lord was “actually doing something deeper” in my life. After that summer, I returned to the Stony Brook School on Long Island sensing a greater freedom to speak for Christ. I ended up being a “student chaplain” my senior year.

I am grateful for Christian education. I experienced that at the Stony Brook School, what a blessing! I also enjoyed my years at Wheaton College, Illinois. (Many people and experiences were a blessing during those college years but for time’s sake I need to move on!) After college I stayed on to do a Master’s degree at the Wheaton Graduate School, while doing an internship at the College Church, primarily working with youth. Great memories!

I can still remember living above a refugee family in an upstairs apartment of a home that no longer exists. One blessing of the College Church in Wheaton is that they have sought to give approximately 50% of their budget to missions, a commitment that they still hold to over forty years later. I am grateful for these experiences. I appreciated the academic program and the involvement in local church life and ministry.   

The next chapter of my life was in England, pursuing a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at Sheffield University. I was encouraged to consider this type of academic work. I guess the main reason I wanted to do this Ph.D. work was to be stretched, to learn along the way, and to open the door for potentially teaching in the future. (I enjoyed the learning so much that I actually attended many lectures that were not required.)  

I also sensed that being back in England would be a valuable experience, and it was. One way the experience was valuable was that during my studies I benefitted from solid preaching in Sheffield, and again in Cambridge. In Cambridge, I had the honor of living at Tyndale House to finish writing my dissertation. The fellowship at Tyndale House was a blessing and a needed break for me from the type of study pressure involved in doing a dissertation.

I am grateful to God for those who encouraged and befriended me along the way. I am grateful for the warning of a well-known preacher as I began the process and the support of people who helped me at the end when I was worn out. I really was worn out and I experienced what it is like to be too close to something to evaluate it yourself. That is why you ultimately need to “submit” a dissertation to others. (By the way, that is also a reason that preachers can be helped by the constructive critique of others because the preacher is so personally invested in the sermon (and should be) that it is hard to evaluate the message “objectively.”)   

I could write a good book on how and how not to write a dissertation, but in the end, it was completed and accepted. God was gracious and good to me. 

The years studying the Scriptures and focusing especially on Romans were certainly worthwhile. Engaging in the academic world was humbling with many lessons learned along the way. I came to appreciate those whose lives were committed to tough critical and theological issues, but I realized also that this was not going to be my world forever. My appreciation for local church ministry deepened by my reading of the letters of Paul and by my church experience while in England.

Yes, God was continually gracious and good to me during my life in England. I am grateful for the breadth and depth of fellowship I shared with so many different Christians. God’s family is certainly bigger than one specific church, one specific denomination, one individual country or continent. I was blessed by solid preaching in the Anglican context and in the Baptist context. I was given opportunities to preach, especially in a little church outside of Cambridge. It was during the last months in England that I heard of the possible plan of my folks to move to Memphis, Tennessee, to establish a center to encourage and help preachers. (Dad actually left Calvary Baptist Church in 1973 due to illness, and during the 12 years after leaving “Calvary” a concern to help preachers grew and took shape.)

So, when I returned to the USA at the end of 1984, I helped my folks move to Memphis, Tennessee. In a sense, the move to Memphis was therapeutic, as life changed from the mental strain and pressure to a physical move and an open future. I did not know that I would still be in Memphis as I write these words some 35 years later!

I met Ellen, now my wife, a few days after I arrived in Memphis in April of 1985. We met initially at a mission’s potluck dinner at Central Church. I don’t believe the meeting was “luck,” indeed I think this was one of the main reasons we came to Memphis. I mean that. Soon, I was officially working for Encounter Ministries, Inc. (now Olford Ministries International, Inc.) Soon, Ellen and I were spending a lot of time together. 365 days after we met, we were married at Central Church, the church that invited us to Memphis.

We just passed 34 years of marriage! Praise the Lord! I believe that your marriage partner is the second most important aspect of life for those who are married in the Lord, second only to the relationship with the Lord Himself.

This testimony would take many pages if I was to give all the details that have taken place since 1986. I will note that in June of 1988 the Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching was dedicated. There have been changes and various developments over the years, but the focus of ministry has not changed. Now, I have been with “O.M.I” for 35 years this June.

The stories of God’s leading and using of the ministry are too many to count. The strength of the ministry has been its continued focus and purpose. We continue to seek to encourage and further equip God’s servants to rightly divide the Word of truth in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I am grateful for those who have “spoken into” my life over the years. Of course, working with my father for almost 20 years was a blessing. The countless hours together were so enriching. My mother was totally committed to the ministry as well, and she had a special ability to minister in music playing the piano. Many guest speakers and visitors to our ministry deepened my understanding of the Word and ministry.

I am grateful for the ministry of Dr. Ted Rendall with me and to me. I have learned that you should not take for granted the time you have with those who are further along the road with Christ than you are. Also, I have learned that you must stay teachable. You learn as you are open to learning.

I have benefitted from the many trips taken, the different places visited and the variety of God’s people met and served.

I have met Christians of different colors, cultures, and countries whose stories have both strengthened my walk with God and humbled me as I sensed the purity of their faith, the depth of their love, and the reality of their hope in the Lord. Let’s remember to pray for our brethren who are facing persecution and hardship for the Lord daily.

I praise God for a wife who loves Jesus and people, and continues to love me!  I am grateful for the gift of two daughters who now love the Lord, serve Him, and really desire to live for Him.

I am grateful for God’s sustaining grace over the last 35 years of ministry involvement. My church has been very supportive over the years and I have had the privilege of serving in various ways, including the honor of being an Elder. And I have been blessed by many people who have prayed for me, our marriage, and the ministry. Financial supporters have been strategic in partnering with us as well. Praise God!

I could write about all the bad things that have happened over the years. Yes, there have been disappointments, difficult circumstances, and hard times. But, even so, the grace and goodness of God shines brighter and dominates the journey I have been traveling. Maybe some of those stories and lessons learned await another “story-time.”

I have no doubt that salvation is the work of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:3-14 spells this out beautifully. It is experienced personally as we turn from sin and self, place our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His cross-work on our behalf, and we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit. According to the Apostle Paul people are saved when they [sincerely] call upon the Name of the Lord (Rom. 10:13). He is sufficient and will save those who call upon Him. The Apostle goes on to elaborate on what I call the “missional order” (and I paraphrase): there is someone sent to preach the gospel – the gospel is preached -the gospel is heard- the gospel is believed and the Lord is called upon for salvation (Rom. 10:13-14). That is why Paul affirms that faith comes through hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:15-17). The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The key, of course, is not the style of the preacher, but the communication of God’s truth and the working of God’s Spirit.

I am very aware of the continued need for God’s mercy and grace to live and to serve daily now.

Strength is found in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1), which includes the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  I know of my own need to be connected to the Vine. The Christian life is lived “in Christ” and all that He has done to save us and continues to do to sanctify us. Yes, I have often prayed Psalm 51 in relation to my own sins and sinfulness, and I am grateful that there is a Psalm 32. I know that the Lord is seeking to make me more and more into His image, more like the Lord Jesus. This involves seeking to put off those things that are not of the Lord, and putting on those things that are like Him by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I believe strongly in the significance of local church discipleship and ministry. I obviously value and teach expository preaching that exalts our God.

I hope that “O.M.I.” can continue to be a “multiplication” ministry as we seek to teach those who can teach others who can teach others. I am grateful for those in about thirty countries who now have the opportunity to take what they have received and pass it on to others.

Recently, Ellen said to me late one night before we went to sleep, “God has been good to us.” I guess that’s my story. Not only has God the Father graciously provided a way to be right in His presence through the gift of His Son, He has also opened His good hand to us in Christ. God has been gracious and good to us. That’s my story. The One who delivered up His own Son for our salvation, is the same one who continues to be merciful, gracious and good. All of these blessings are from His hand.  

SO:

If you are wondering, yes, you can trust Him. You can trust Him because He is gracious and good. You must trust Him for saving grace because this is the only way to come into the family of God. He provided the way through the sacrifice of His own Son for us. He, Jesus, was our substitute. He took the penalty of our waywardness, our sin, our self-centered lives. He took the penalty, the “curse” of the Law, the wrath of God, while we were still in our sin. So, we must turn from sin, receive His forgiveness, and indeed receive Him by faith into our very lives, “Calling upon the Name of the Lord.” Salvation is in Him, and He is the living Savior who continues to provide the goodness of God daily. “He who did not spare His own Son…..how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?”

Dr. David Olford

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