A little of my background:
By: Pastor Donald Magaw
In 1944, when I was two weeks old, my parents began my education by taking me to church with them, and until I went away to college, I never missed a Sunday school class, church service, or Bible study class. Yes, I was too young to understand, but a lot of the messages stuck with me….”train up a child in the way he shall go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
I was 11 years old and sitting in the Ocean Grove great auditorium listening to the message being delivered and it was that night that I formally gave my heart to Christ and made the formal decision that I wanted to be a clergyman. And so began my intense study of God’s Word.
God has had a plan for my life. As a toddler, the stroller I was sitting in was struck by lightening. For years I had to wear corrective shoes. Then one day, dad came to me and he told me could not buy the special shoes, but instead he purchased a pair of Converse sneakers. God performed another miracle, within a few weeks, my feet returned to “normal.” In 1950, I was bitten by a poisonous spider and nearly died, but God spared me. Later in life, I contracted “Rocky Mountain Spotted fever” and nearly died, but God took care of me.
I went away to college. I started out at Nyack Missionary College but because I had a Bible professor who said, “It does not matter if you believe in the virgin birth or not,” I left there to go to Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC. While at BJU, one of my professors suggested that every “preacher boy,” as we were affectionately called, should pick a verse that would be our life verse. The passage I chose and try to live by is found in Proverbs 3:5-8. “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. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.” I have found these words to be very true.
I was ordained in March, 1968. For many years, I worked with dad and directed the vacation Bible schools at the church.
Then in February, 1994, dad was called home to be with the Lord he so dearly loved. It was at that time that the congregation asked me to step in and continue the work my parents had begun in 1950 when they reopened the church.
Almost immediately after dad went home, other groups attempted to “move in” and take over the church. The congregation would have no part of it.
One time we had a “gentleman” come into the church and he attempted to change our doctrinal position. He felt that one did not need the shed blood of Christ to be saved, but could earn their way into heaven. We politely invited him to cease his activity and if he did not believe in our doctrine, he was free to go somewhere and worship where they agreed with him.
At one time, a group of clergymen wanted me to join their group. But they had a stipulation, and that was that I tone down my preaching on the shed blood. I told their representative that before I did that, I would remove all the pews, install tables and add a pizza oven because without the shed blood of Christ, we had no business (or need) to have worship services.
Then in October, 1994, I was diagnosed with cancer of the tonsil. The doctors treating me told me to “get your affairs in order; you have about 6 month to live.” Obviously, being human, this was devastating news….my wife and I cried and hugged each other (our daughter was 4 years old) and then I said, “what am I crying for, I am in God’s hands”. The doctor wanted to remove my palate, jaw and most of my tongue and then put my face back together using wires. My wife, Christine, did not like what he proposed. My wife began making phone calls and finally got me in touch with Dr. Urken at Mr. Sinai hospital…he performed a 17 hour surgery, removed my tonsil, palate, and jaw and then “rebuilt” me. He took muscles from my arm, a bone from my leg, and a skin graft from my leg. Then I had almost 5 months of daily radiation treatments. I am told that the rate of survival for my type of cancer is 1 in 10,000 for one year and that it usually will return in the second year. All the while this was going on, God’s people prayed for my recovery. God used some wonderful doctors to bring about my healing. (Dr. Urken helped invent the surgery I had, my dental implants were done by a doctor who won a Nobel Prize for implant dentistry, and my dental prosthetics were done by a doctor who was the dean of the school of dentistry at Mt Sinai and an author on prostatic dentistry.)
Well, obviously, the doctors proved to be wrong and God heard the prayers of His people. It will be 22 years in November, (2016) and I am still here serving the Lord. One of my doctors told me not too long ago, that “as far as the medical profession knows, I am the longest know living survivor of the type and location of the cancer I had.” This is one of the driving forces behind my ministry today…God has work for me to do.
Personally, I am very thankful to God that He spared my life. Because God spared my life and my wife constantly fought for me, (and constantly stood by my side through it all) I was given the privilege of seeing my very beautiful daughter grow into a wonderful woman who has completed working on her master’s degree in English and we are so proud of her. (Fortunately she was blessed with her grandfather’s ability to write).
While I was laid up, God provided a couple of fine Christian ministers to fill the pulpit until I was able to resume my duties.
During the course of my ministry at the Port Monmouth Community Church, I have seen God work in miraculous ways. Just highlight a few in the most recent years:
When my dad reopened the church, he became very close friends with a priest at St. Catherine’s of Middletown, (they worked hand in hand in the community). Then a few years ago, I met an Elvis performer (Anthony Liguori) at a summer concert in Berkley Heights. Something told me to go up and introduce myself as a pastor to him because he had all through the show, made references to God. Turns out, he himself was studying to become a deacon in his church. We began emailing each other (because I am hard to understand on the phone) and we became great friends.
Now the miracles begin: Sandy hit our little church hard. We were devastated and did not know which way to turn, but God had a plan. We arrived a few days after Sandy to see what we could salvage. The members of AA and other in the community showed up to help. Then there was the arrival of the Texas Baptist Men’s Association who were in the area and heard we needed help to clean up the church. They spent a week working, cleaning, salvaging and left us with a cleaned out shell. But we still had no place to worship….
I received a telephone call from Pastor Dan of St. Catherine’s and he told me that he had found record in his church of the relationship of my dad and their former pastor. He was wondering how we did with Sandy. I told him and then he asked “Where are you worshipping now?” I told him we did not have a place to worship. He replied “You do now.” He offered us his parish hall to hold our services. When we arrived on Sunday morning, much to my surprise was a sign that had our church name on it and an arrow pointing to where the services would be held. He provided us with an electronic piano, pulpit and anything else we needed. (We would meet there for nearly 6 months).
Later that week, Anthony called me and said, “Don, my Elvis group will do a fund raiser for you if you can find a place to hold it.” I began looking for a place but was striking out. Then on Sunday, Pastor Dan came in and said, “You know Pastor Don, you should have a fund raiser.” “Funny you should mention that, I am looking for a place to hold one right now.” Without hesitation, he said, “you can have it here.” Then the wheels began to really turn. We met with Anthony, and then I had a meeting with the folks from St. Catherine’s parish. They would provide for the chair rental, they would get donations of food for the event and they even sold the tickets. When all was said and done, I asked Pastor Dan what we owed his church for the use of the building, etc. and he told me “Keep the funds and rebuild your church.” This was truly Christianity at work.
So with funds in hand, we began the rebuilding process. As we were getting ready, we received a surprise donation. A local flooring contractor, donated, installed and finished 1300 square feet of oak flooring. The electrical of the church was completely redone. There were many people in the background who made this all possible….that is a whole other story.
As I look back, I can see the hand of God at work. God knew we would need help and thus the friendship with a Catholic priest. My meeting Anthony was not just by chance. It was the hand of God working to provide for our little church.
We had been in desperate need of someone to play the piano/organ for our services. For several years, after our organist passed away, I had been playing (sometimes one fingering it) for the services. Then one Sunday, after service God provided. A wonderful and talented woman (Christine Metzger) came up to me and said, “I miss being able to play the piano, can I play a few hymns?” I told her to go ahead. After the first song, I asked her if she wanted a “job”, but it was a non-paying job. She said, “I need a place to practice”….so being led of the Holy Spirit, I gave her a key to the church. She has been playing for us since that and it has been a real blessing to our church.
Then in July of 2015, I had an infection in my knee. My doctor sent me to the emergency room for treatment. That evening they performed emergency surgery on my knee. I would have a total of three surgeries over the next couple of days. It was originally thought that I would be hospitalized for a couple of days and then a couple of weeks in rehabilitation. Well, that did not happen as planned.
One of my nurses, (who previously had made errors in my treatment) administered a mix of apple sauce and potassium pills. I told her I could not swallow that concoction but she forced it into my mouth and I aspirated the mixture. That led to aspiration pneumonia. Two days later, I crashed and actually went “code blue” and was put into ICU. They were going to incubate me but the doctor was afraid. My kidneys were shutting down. I could not talk. He then proceeded to miss-diagnose me and told my wife that my cancer had returned and was blocking my airway. I could not talk and was writing all my messages on a pad. She argued with him and told him he was wrong as I am constantly checked for any cancers. The hospital had, because of the aspiration, cut off all food and water via mouth. I begged for water and finally my wife told them to give me some water. Finally she got a nurse to listen to her and I was given a small amount of water and I swallowed some and immediately began coughing and brought up a large amount of mucus that was blocking my airway. Almost immediately I was able to speak again. Luckily for me one of my treating doctors was in ICU and he told the doctors there that they were wrong and explained to them what they were seeing in the x-rays was something that they were not used to seeing.
While I was again laid up, Wanda Wohlin took control of the services and kept the work of the church going strong.
Once again, I own my life to God, the prayers of His people and my wonderful wife who would not give up on me. (Every man should have a wife like I have, she is truly a help-meet sent from God.)
Do I feel the Holy Spirit working in our church? I sure do! Every Sunday we have some special music, and no one knows in advance what will be the topic of my message, but every Sunday the special music fits the sermon as if I had hand-picked the songs.
I have been giving a lot of thought to the interpretation of the Word of God, partially because I have been typing and preparing my father’s Bible study notes in preparation to distribute them for the glory of God.
After studying God’s Word for all these years, (I am still learning with the help of the Holy Spirit and I still don’t know it all), I have drawn a couple of conclusions. I would like to share them with you.
There are many denominations, and I am sure that all of them can “prove” their position using the Bible, depending on their interpretations. There are as many interpretations of Revelation as there are Christians. I recently was asked to join a “Bible study” group who were attempting to “properly interpret” the book of Revelation. My reply was based on the old time Afro-American preacher who said, “The book of Revelation is easy to interpret, GOD WINS!” What more is to be said?
But as I study God’s Word, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one doctrine that really matters. It is not election, predestination, eternal security, pre-millennial, post-millennial, or for that matter anything else.
It is the doctrine of Jesus Christ…..He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified for my sins, rose again and ascended into heaven and one day He will return to earth to receive His own. Tell me, what is more important?
I firmly believe that John 3:16 should be retranslated…..it reads “For God so loved the world…..” I believe we need to translate this verse “For God so loved (put your own name here) Don Magaw that he gave…..” I believe with all my heart that if I was the only person on earth, Jesus Christ would have willingly died for me. When you put your name in the blank, it gives a whole new meaning to your faith in Jesus Christ.
We can study the various denominations and what they stand for, (or don’t stand for) and many people will believe that they will be the only group in heaven. Let me tell you this, no group will have their own little corner in heaven. Someone once said that “when we get to heaven we will be very surprised at who we see…..and we will be more surprised at who we don’t see.” The Word is perfectly clear, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” It does not tell us to believe on a particular denomination or doctrine but to believe on Jesus Christ! This is the secret to a beautiful life.
Will we have thorns along the way? Sure we will…be thankful for the roses but don’t curse the thorns. People many times ask me the question…”why does God allow…..? Why did God let you get cancer, after all, you are a pretty good guy? I may never completely know the answers to these questions, but I can only respond to them as follows: “I will answer that question when you can answer the following for me….”Why did God allow His only Son to stretch forth his arms and die for me?” When you can answer this, I will answer you on the “whys.” Sure, it can be discussed theologically, you can chart it, study it and believe it…but it still leaves the human mind with a big “WHY????”
As I reflect back on my ministry, I cannot help but remember my father. He was at home, suffering from colon cancer, and I went to visit him. The day he went home to be with the Lord, he was sitting on the edge of his bed with mom, singing hymns. He was singing at the top of his lungs “I’m sheltered in the arms of God.” I asked him what I should preach about and he answered “Preach the truth, no matter what.” Later that night, I was called to his bedside. He kept saying “I want to go home.” His nurse said, “He is delirious, he is home.” I told her that she just did not understand.
Later that evening, dad called me by his side and said “Son, I love you…..“KEEP LOOKING UP, JESUS IS COMING SOON!” These were the final words I ever heard my dad utter to me. They will remain with me forever.
God bless you all,