The First Baptist Church at Conshohocken

                                                It Is Well with My Soul!

One has very little perspective upon which to fall back when one is a mere three-and-one-half years of age.  So; when one is awoken via a tug of the shoulder in the middle of the night, what thereafter unfolds gives one no ready reason to doubt or question its fundamental order in reality.

I was so awoken by such a tug of my shoulder.  Two persons were standing over my bedside.  Their presence afforded an interesting tripartite mystery.  First; they had the appearance of women, but weren’t.  Second; one was small and stocky, while the other was tall and thin, yet they were the same size.  Third; when I got out of bed to bring my parents to meet my visitors, they moved across the room, yet they never moved at all.  You have the picture, and so far so good.  There was absolutely nothing out of the bounds of reality, certainly not for this little kid who now reminisces almost sixty years later.

They were gone upon my return with Mummy & Daddy.  Not very polite; frankly, but there you are.  Daddy searched my closet with a flashlight, for reasons I’m not quite sure to this day as to why.  Mummy remained thoughtfully quiet.  I went back to bed wondering to where my guests had gone, and spent the next ten years wondering who they were and why they had come to see me.

Flash forward ten years later, to August 1975.  I awake one morning to discover that something had gone dramatically wrong with me; that is, inside of whom I was – my soul; if you will.  And it was quite dramatic and visceral.

I found myself overcome with a sense of my sin-nature.  It frightened the senses out-of-me.  I became all-but physically paralyzed out of fear of bodily movements, a fear that was acting in correspondence with what a psychologist later defined as a series of  “visualizations,” as distinct from hallucinations, these visualizations being something very difficult to describe, other than by saying that they were the visual postulation of words that found themselves engrained in the texture of everything to which I cast my eyes, assuming size, shape and color of whatever it was at which I was looking.  And when I say everything, I mean absolutely everything!  It was frightening.  It was exhausting.  It was sanity-breaking.  Add to the fact that I couldn’t walk through a doorway, get on or off a chair, in or out of bed, clothe or unclothe myself without going through utter psychological hell – Well; you get the point, even if you understand no better than I did.

Then; I heard a voice.  It was direct and clear and firm, yet trustworthy and affirming.  “You will look to your bookshelf, and there you will find a blue book in which you will find your answers.”  I can still hear the voice and the words like an audio transcript to this day.  Needless to say; I went to the blue book on my shelf, and therein found my answers – Better; therein I found my Answer, who was and is Jesus Christ, the very Wisdom of God and the One who shortly thereafter became my Savior & Lord.

It would be a lengthy excursion towards wellness, with a breakthrough having to wait until early-1977, and even then it would take years for me to find my psychological equilibrium, but my spiritual growth in God’s Presence was a profound blessing, having spent 4-6 hours daily with Him in Word & prayer and even 6-8 hours daily on weekends.  I would hit a spiritual wall by the end of the decade, and my gracious Lord would need to bring me under His disciplining hand, but He disciplines those He loves, as I came to know by way of experience.

I also quickly came to discern what that extraordinary visit of many years prior actually meant.  Angels had come to herald my call to His service, as my dear mother had all along knew, for years later she confided that she believed me when I spoke of my visitors, for little boys that age don’t talk as I did:  “Mummy; I know they were real because I brushed past their garments.”  (Come to think of it; sixty-year-old men don’t talk that way; either!)  I could no longer envision doing anything other than proclaiming the Good News of my Lord’s Gospel and serving His People.  Playing first-base for the Boston Red Sox or teaching high school history became moot points, but preaching and living the Gospel (whatever my flaws, however much growth would remain a pressing necessity) had become The Point of my existence.

The Spirit of God led me into a local fellowship (First Baptist Church of Everett, MA) and to Gordon College (Bach. of Arts, 1983) and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div. 1986).  And, by the end of the 1980s, The Call came be way of a phone call one very hot night in August 1988 from a church in a place of which I had never heard (though don’t tell that to the indigenous populace known as “Conshy natives!”) – The First Baptist Church at Conshohocken, PA.  I’ve been here ever since, over 32 years later.

It’s been a long road with no turns, quite a bit of hardship, including several challenges to my pastoral authority, my own need for personal and pastoral growth and even the gravest crisis in the history of our church – namely; the catastrophic fire that destroyed our historic church building in May 2005.  My; what I have learned about God’s providence, faithfulness and redemptive love! 

The church had nearly and permanently closed her doors during the summer immediately preceding my Christmas arrival.  A prayerful decision was made to give it one more try.  I’m not certain that bringing an entirely and utterly inexperienced, very green novice was the soundest decision that the church could have made, but God’s wisdom is greater than man’s wisdom or folly; praise Him!

I had the privilege of working closely with the Billy Graham evangelistic crusade of 1992 in Philadelphia, a watershed moment for me, not simply in-and-of-itself, but for what I learned and found to be applicable and influential to my own pastoral work.

I married my dear wife Margaret, “Peggy,” in September 1996, a “life-step” that has been of incalculable value, both to me and to my ministry, as Peggy runs deep in the things of God, including the worship of God, the prayer of His people and a dogged faithfulness in all things related to Him. 

I began to write devotional columns for the Conshohocken Recorder and Philadelphia Daily News, traveled to teach students at New Life Bible College in Moscow, Russia (1996-1998) and Hindustan Bible Institute in Chennai, India (1997-1999), work both valuable in-and-of-itself and profoundly affecting both my life and my ministry – Again; God’s praise!

But a spiritual pot-hole had been struck in the late-90s.   My church went into a kind of tail-spin for a couple of years, a season that would prove disciplinary and purifying, as well as instructive and preparatory.  He wastes nothing, not even messes!

I endured this season of trial with a pronounced sense of failure, being hounded by feelings of having let God down, my fellowship down, my parents (who had been instrumental in supporting my calling) down – Hell (pardon me!); letting myself down! 

Then; there was that blessed evening at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston’s Back Bay in early 2001.  I was one of several hundred people who had come to listen to Annie Graham Lotz (Billy Graham’s daughter) share the Word.  She drew upon John 21, in which a very chastened Apostle Peter is recommissioned to ministry by Jesus along the beach and over breakfast.  God’s Spirit flooded my soul with deepening power as the Word unfolded.  I; too, (and like Peter) was being restored to ministry, ministry both constructive and fruitful.  It was hard for me to fathom that the throngs surrounding me had not had a similar encounter with God Himself, the encounter having been so palatable, visceral and powerful – Let all the earth (most assuredly me!) praise the  Lord!

It began an entirely fresh and productive run, one that included a significant pastoral response to the crisis of September 11, 2001, my advent to the Philadelphia Bible Society, a partnership that would prove pivotal on so many fronts, and all things being providentially put into place to prepare us for The Crisis of our church’s history.

We awoke on Tuesday morning, May 10, 2005 to a day very similar to that of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  The sky was blue, the sun was bright, the temperature was temperate and no one knew what was about to hit us.

I had just returned from the local 7-11 with some morning refreshment, only to hear one of the men working on the flat roof of the church off the backyard cry, “Call the fire department!”  It sounded ominous and, as I quickly discovered, it was going to be catastrophic.  I witnessed smoke running the trajectory of the roof, smoking as it ran.  The guy jumping down looked like death-warmed over.  The fire raged for six (6) hours, but the church was destroyed within one (1) hour.  It was absolutely devastating.

But God was absolutely transcendent in His graciousness from the very start of the fire; indeed, even well before the fire, as he had prepared us with the right persons to work within and without the church fellowship.  He met our every need at every turn, often in literally miraculous ways – He is God, and has shown us repeatedly over time, as He did throughout this daunting episode, that He is worthy of our praise and of our trust!

It became an extraordinary epoch in the life of our church.  God’s blessings flowed seamlessly, regularly, powerfully & miraculously.  The local community center just one block away gave us cart blanc use of its facility for over eight years at absolutely no charge – Yes; you heard correctly!  Our architect (and a man who has become a dear friend) observed that our church leadership was the only one that did not break into quarrel or disagreement throughout the process of design.  We were under-insured, but a professional arbiter ruled in our favor concerning a large sum of money that was questionable as to who would get it.  We needed an outlay of $75,000 from our investment banking firm just as the economy tanked in late 2007 and all outlays were suspended, except for our request – We were the only client within the Morgan Stanley spectrum that received monies at that time (at least; from the kind of investment that we had), leading our agent to inform me that he now believed in God!  We needed another $200,000 that we didn’t have, only to receive a check in the mail from the estate of a lady who had died five years prior and had left our church for West Virginia as far back as 1963 and had never returned, not even for a visit – The check was to the amount of almost exactly what we required to finish the construction of our church façade!  I could wax on, and all to His eternal glory and our continuous blessing!

We entered a partial fit-out of our church at Thanksgiving 2013.  It was grand, though a time of upheaval and difficulty didn’t wait very long to commence – Nevertheless; God’s grace would prove more than sufficient. 

January 2018 broke wintry and worrying.  I’m only human, so the problems were beginning to get to me.  But I lay awake one morning, only to hear afresh the voice of my God speak to me:  “You will look to me for everything.”  I can still hear the words, and the voice.  I know what I heard, but I didn’t understand what it entailed.

I had purchased a pasta dinner on my way home from hospital in June 2016.  My wife had undergone cancer surgery that morning and, though the surgery would prove stunningly successful, my heart was heavy.  I sat on my back-porch to attend to my meal when the Spirit of God directed me to go to You Tube off of my cell-phone and listen to a sermon by the Senior Pastor of Times Square Church, Carter Conlon.  Mind you; I had no real idea of who this man was, having only come across his name several months prior to this moment.  But I knew God was directing me, so I listened – and found myself absolutely and utterly enthralled with what he was saying and with whom to this man proved to be – He was a true, humble and earnest man of God.  I would begin to attend to his preaching on a regular basis, the effect of which was to encourage and edify me in ways that I had not heretofore experienced, even after 25 years of pastoral ministry!

So; returning to January 2018, I knew enough to listen and to obey.  Man; am I glad I did, as such fixed gaze carried me through a time of such personal and pastoral turbulence the likes of which I hadn’t heretofore experienced, and I had been through much!  How God sustained my wife and I throughout the many months that would follow was extraordinary; assuredly!  And this was especially true of “me ol’ ticker!”

My heart has long been a problem.  I was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy upwards of 25 years ago.  It is a thickening to the wall of one’s heart.  It stood to reason that I would have it, as my Welsh blood-line has been over-run with cardiac problems over time.  My condition slowly and steadily worsened to the point that just walking from one room to another would cause tremendous chest oppression and gasping for breath.  I had undergone innumerable catheterizations, as well as a four-hour ablation for an electrical problem of the same muscle, but things just got worse.  I visited with a doctor at Jefferson University Hospital to explore the prospect of a transplant, but that option was deemed to be off-the-table.

But my cardiologist is not one of the best for nothing!  He directed me to Dr. Hartzell V. Schaff of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, the only doctor in the entire occidental world who would perform the kind of surgery that I required.  It’s called a septal myectomy, and it entails the shaving off of a portion of a cardiac muscle; in my case, at the heart’s apex, which makes the surgery extremely difficult and risky – hence, the only surgeon willing to do it was out there.  He accepted our request, and scheduled me rather quickly.

It would not be an easy run; not by any stretch, but it would prove to be a run that was graced and blessed by God at every turn and throughout the entirety of the year 2019.

First; I had no idea how any of this was going to get financed, as the church had been brought to a place at which I wasn’t able to take a full salary, but we were learning just how faithful our dear Lord is, and He took care of every need, from the standard monthly bills to the costs of travel and lodging.

Second; one week prior to the scheduled surgery, we were notified that my insurance would not cover the surgery – You have got to be joking!  A lovely young woman in my primary physician’s office went to work on behalf of my dilemma, and we flew to Minnesota, trusting in God that all would work out.  We stood in an administrative line and, as we approached the counter to address our situation, word came through their computer system that all systems were a go; praise God and kudos to the young lady!

The surgery, profound and complicated as it was, didn’t really phase me, but the second night my heart went into an attack of atrial fibrillation, which was daunting.  The third night I found myself having a seven-hour run of not being readily able to breathe, but God saw me through, even sending to me a Doctor Jonathan Fox, who hailed from New England and read the same books that I read, to chat with me and help calm me.  The following day a lovely young woman came to remove the three tubes from my abdomen, a process for which I had been forewarned as being absolutely fiendish, but this gal was like something out of Greek mythology – Long & flowing red hair, lengthy fingers, and both larger-than-life convivial and transcendently-competent.  She asked me to take a deep breath and to let it out.  She asked me again and, on the second run, she removed the tubes and I barely felt a thing – My heroine; Samantha was! 

And, throughout our stay in Rochester, MN, my wife and I were either on the receiving or giving end of ministry.  The lovely stewardess proved to be a Christian who very much needed to talk with us.  We became good friends and we prayed with her upon leaving the flight, but not before we received a heart-felt embrace from her, something I had never before seen in all the years that I had worked at Logan Airport in Boston!  The night manager of the hotel was a Pentecostal Christian who laid his hands upon me and prayed over me the morning of my departure for surgery.  The dear nurse who spent much of the day discharging me (an involved and lengthy process at the Mayo) was a deeply-loving and devout believer who gave us such a benediction as we took our leave.  And the young woman from Africa who helped me up the walkway back at the airport in Philadelphia was a devout believer from Ghana who showed me such respect, addressed me as “Daddy” and humbly bowed before me as I prayed for her before we traversed the Blue Route to go home.  God was manifesting Himself at every turn!

But things really revved up back at the ranch.  My heart went into a “reaction” the very first night I was home.  I can’t even begin to describe the all-out, multi-faceted, from-every-angle attack that hit me.  Peggy wanted to take me to hospital, but I was convinced that I wouldn’t make it there alive.  The attack lasted four long, horrible hours.  Peggy prayed me through it.  And God gave me an angelic vision that conveyed authority over the crisis that afflicted me.

That was a Friday evening.  I awoke on Sunday morning at 4:20 to yet another round, this time of greater profundity and horror.  It’s as if the scale of the attack upon my heart had quadrupled.  Again; what was happening to me was beyond description.  I knew in my heart by 6am that, if this persisted until 7am, I would not be able to withstand it.  I cried out to God, “Lord, if you don’t deliver me from this travail, I won’t be alive by next hour!”

What happened next is extraordinary.  I no sooner cried out for deliverance than a vision was cast before me of American fighter jets converging from two sides and making a “B” line for me; as they were about to strike me, they veered off in separate directions and, as they did, the crisis besetting me broke – I mean; it broke!  I would endure several more hours of hellish residuals, but the threat of death has passed – God had delivered me; praise His Name!  The summer ahead would be long and hard, as recovery was brutal, but I would live to tell the tale, as I would return to ministry by mid-autumn.  What can I do but give God all of the glory!

Yes; my friends, it is well with my soul!  It is well with my ministry.  It is well with everything in God’s Presence and providential care – And it may be well with you; also, if only you entrust your life to His loving, wise and capable care!  Amen.

Bradley E. Lacey

January 23, 2021