Sixteen-year old Adrian Rogers had already gone to bed when he heard his father and a close family friend sitting on the patio just outside his bedroom window having a conversation. The friend asked, "What is Adrian going to do with his life?"
"He wants to be a preacher," Adrian's father replied.
The friend laughed and said, "That boy will never make a preacher."
This wasn't the first time others had cast doubts on the future of this young man. In junior high school Adrian was known to be unruly and belligerent. He had an overdose of courage and the ability to fight with his fists. He had gained a reputation of being one the toughest kids in school. He would challenge others to a fight just for an expression of what must have been an inner turmoil. He had challenged his classmates one by one to a dual of fisticuffs. Some would surrender without a fight. The others were prodded into conflict.
Not only this, but early on he developed bad habits in language and personal integrity. He would "borrow" answers on a test from a person near him. Truancy was a regular occurrence that he covered up with phony excuses.
Adrian kept most of this side of his life a secret from me, and I knew him at a different level. His teachers, however, and the principal of the junior high school were not in the dark about this trouble-making student. Ironically, the principal of Northboro Junior High School contacted my mother and warned her that her daughter was keeping company with the "meanest boy in school."
When Adrian turned fourteen, he yielded his life to Jesus and a radical transformation took place. It was so vivid that teachers began to ask, "What happened to Adrian? He is so changed." That change was real and has lasted for sixty years.
Adrian often has said that if it were not for Jesus and His transforming grace that he would not be a nice person to live with and may have even ended up in prison. In retrospect, he feels that he would have come to Christ at an earlier age if someone had shared the gospel with him.
While God indeed did make a preacher out of Adrian, it was not without some deep pain and sorrow. Adrian and I were molded and fashioned on the anvil of a great loss.
Just three weeks after Adrian and I arrived at our first church out of seminary, tragedy struck our little family. It was on Mother's Day. After lunch was finished and the children were put to bed for their naps, I was headed for the bedroom to take a nap. I stopped by little Philip's crib to check on him and he looked strange. I called for Adrian to come quickly and horrified asked, "Is he dead?"
Adrian quickly picked up his little body and tucked him inside his coat. He told me to stay there because the other children were asleep, and he did not want to alarm them.
He drove as quickly as he could to the hospital. The attendant took the baby from his arms and rushed to see what they could do.
Unashamedly, Adrian fell to his knees in the hospital corridor and cried out to God for help. But the doctor returned to sadly report, "I'm sorry, son. He's gone." Later, Philip's death was diagnosed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Adrian returned home, and I saw him coming up the front walk empty handed. I knew in my heart that Philip was gone to be with Jesus.
We called our family and a few church members to tell them about Philip's death. The word spread swiftly throughout the small congregation, and people began to come to the house to express their condolences.
They put their arms and their love around us. This began a bonding that never ceased. Soon our parents arrived. We gathered a few belongings and began our journey to our hometown, West Palm Beach, which was just an hour away. Steve and Gayle, ages 4 and 2, rode with their grandparents, giving us an opportunity to reflect on this sadness that had suddenly invaded our lives.
We were living next to the church at this time, so as we pulled out of the driveway that Sunday evening, the church services were just beginning. The windows of the church building were open, and we could hear the congregation singing.
No, never alone! No, never alone!
He promised never to leave me
Never to leave me alone.
Truly, this was a message from God to us. Then as we drove toward "home," we reflected on the death of our infant son and sang songs that God brought to our minds. The song we especially remembered was Joseph Scriven's emotive lyric, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear;
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear;
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
We continued to sing all the way home. God used the messages of these hymns to comfort our saddened hearts. The following days seemed like a dream as we made preparations for the funeral. We decided on a meaningful grave marker. It would read, "Philip!" "Yes, Lord!" The message was clear. God had called our little son, and he had answered that call.
I can still recall the pain I felt as I stood at Philip's grave. But then, I sensed the assurance of God speaking to my heart, "He's not there. He's up here with Me!"
After the funeral Pastor Allan Watson took me by the arm. As he led me away, he counseled me to take the love I had for Philip and pour it into the lives of the children I still had. That evening at my parents' home, everyone else had gone to bed early, leaving us alone in the living room. As Steve and Gayle played in the living room, I remembered the pastor's words. A great gratitude for them came over me. That is what I would do—continue to love and care for these two gifts from God.
Although the death of our infant son was devastating, it was not defeating. Adrian and I cast ourselves on the Lord in a way we had never done before. Jesus became the greater focus of our lives, and we began to realize more than ever His total sufficiency.
The following week Adrian was in the hospital visiting a man to whom he had been witnessing. That man asked, "Are you still serving God after what He did to you?"
Adrian replied, "Of course I am. Had there been no sin, there would have been no sickness and death. Sin came into the world through Satan. He was the initiator of sin, and Jesus is the only answer. I'm not going to line up with the Devil. Satan's got a bigger enemy than he's ever had. Jesus is the only answer to sin and suffering."
I also remember on that devastating day, shortly after Philip's death, I found a verse that seemed to be God's direct word in this dark hour. It was found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."
Joyce and I determined to be good stewards of our sorrow and to comfort others with the comfort that we had experienced. This comfort was the presence of the living Christ within us. It was a truth that became more real in our experience day by day.
We learned while talking with others who are experiencing grief that it is not our responsibility to meet this person's need but to introduce them to the only One Who is the ultimate answer. All good counsel brings the individual to an encounter with and a surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ.
We made an effort to focus our hearts on Jesus instead of our grief. Also, we gave up to the Lord our so-called right to understand why this happened and began to praise Him by faith. Going deeper into God's Word and finding strength from specific promises brought great peace in the midst of our storm.
We have endeavored to live by these principles and share them with others. Men throw broken things away, but it seems that God never uses anything until He first breaks it.
These and other experiences God used to deepen and mature Adrian's faith. God did make a preacher out of him and has allowed him to serve three terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the world's largest Protestant denomination. It did not seem that this bashful boy would pastor a megachurch and be heard by millions on radio and television around the world.
Adrian Pierce Rogers was born September 12, 1931, in West Palm Beach, Fla., the third child of Arden and Rose Rogers. He describes his parents as "good, hard working salt-of-the-earth kind of people." They were a middle class family who had moved from Georgia to Florida shortly before the Great Depression of 1929. Although not financially affluent, they did create a stable home environment. Adrian says of them:
My father became an orphan at age ten and was passed around, living with one relative, then another, doing hard farm work. Although my father and mother had little formal education, they had innate abilities.
I remember my father as a diligent and affable man who always dressed "snappy," kept his shoes highly polished and played as hard as he worked.
He had natural leadership qualities that caused him to rise to the top and excel in whatever task he undertook. He had a resonant baritone voice that was passed down to me and has been a great help in my calling as a preacher.
My mother, although limited in her education, read widely and could discourse on almost any subject.
She had a quick wit and a story that would embellish almost every conversation. I think I see traces of these characteristics in my own life that have served me in the ministry.
His mother and father loved children—especially their children. Adrian's older sister, Alliean, became a nurse and then an interior decorator. His older brother Arden, known as Buddy, became an electrical engineer and his younger brother, Barry, became comptroller of a college.
Adrian and Arden, known at that time as Akie and Buddy, played a lot of boyhood pranks. One time Buddy placed his head under the house with his body lying out on the ground. They buried Adrian's body in the sand and cut out a hole in a newspaper close to his head and put catsup around it to look like blood. Then they placed a machete nearby to make it look like his head had been cut off. Someone then called their mother to come quickly. As she was looking at this awful scene, Adrian winked at her.
Akie and Buddy also spent many happy hours in their canvas-covered kayak propelled by an ancient 3.5 horsepower Johnson outboard motor.
One day the two boys left the saltwater lagoon called Lake Worth and made their way in their little boat through the inlet into the vast Atlantic Ocean, although their father had warned the boys never to venture into the ocean in their fragile craft. To make the deed all the more foolish, the Coast Guard had put up small-craft warnings that day because of high wind and enormous waves. The father and the Coast Guard were right, and the boys were wrong. Adrian recalls:
When the boat capsized, I remember looking up at a monstrous translucent wave and the sunlight showing through it. It came crashing into the boat, filling it with icy water. The little motor gave a hissing sound and stopped running. The tackle went to the bottom along with an overcoat I had brought along.
Another vicious wave swept away the life preservers we were sitting on. The boat had no flotation and normally would have sunk. But as it turned over, it captured some air that kept it afloat.
My brother and I are strong swimmers. We held to the boat and with kicking motions pushed it to the shore. There it rolled over and over and was destroyed by the beating surf. We borrowed a match from a fisherman nearby and built a bonfire because we were shivering with cold. But we both felt God had delivered us.
It was a long walk home that day for two young men who had learned a lesson we would never forget.
Some years later as a "boy preacher," Adrian used this story as an illustration, while preaching in the church where he and Buddy had grown up. He told the story carefully and accurately, with great dramatic effect. He made the point that some lives are shipwrecked by disobedience. To punctuate the point Adrian said, "I believe I was saved in order to preach the gospel. I don't know why God saved my brother."
When the congregation roared with laughter, the young preacher felt he had ruined it all and felt humiliated. But that night there was a mighty moving of God's Spirit and a number of people gave their hearts to Jesus.