Month: August 2015
When I was 14, I received Christ. I had recently had a close brush with death as a kid in the van with me on a Boy Scout outing had died when he was thrown from the vehicle and the van rolled over on top of him. I think he was 12 when I watched him die.
I was dragged to church and during an altar call, I looked up and said, “God, if you are real, show me.” There was no dramatic or sensational miraculous sign but God began to reveal Himself to me and within a couple of months I answered “yes” to the call to follow Christ.
I was struggling in this new life when a teacher at Columbus High School asked, “How many of you are Christians?” I had mocked and ridiculed believers before and suddenly I knew I was at a crossroad. The scripture that rumbled through me was “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in heaven.” I raised my hand.
No ridicule came. Instead as I looked around me and saw the hands raised, I was shocked at who claimed Christ. I don’t think any of us were very good Christians. I cannot express how that simple question changed my life. But I became determined to live the life of Christ.
When I was 16, my dad was pressuring me to choose a direction for my life. I prayed and sought the Lord and felt He had called me to the terminally ill. I decided to seek to become a kind of medical missionary working in hospice programs. When I announced it in the church, my life changed again.
A guy named Bill Higgins, a year younger than me and Keith Dickerson, a guy a year older from another church came up to me afterwards and invited me to join them. Keith’s youth pastor was looking for a way to reach the teens in the High Schools with the love of Christ.
Looking back, Norris Gibson probably didn’t know what he was doing. He was groping in the dark, trying to find a way to fulfill the Great Commission. But he unknowingly created a second youth group made up of zealous young men from churches and denominations from all across the city and caught lightning in a bottle. We called ourselves “Christians Who Care.”
No one ever paid him to reach this group of teens. We never joined his church. But my faith and knowledge of the Word of God dramatically increased. We argued scripture and debated doctrines. We prayed all night at a cabin in the woods and the pages in one of my Bibles are still crinkly from the dew settling on it in the wee hours of the morning. We played basketball and devoured everything edible in the Gibson home. Norris taught some basic principles but didn’t attempt anything systematic. Instead, the Holy Spirit taught and we learned from one another. But Norris knew CWC was something special. He made a point of making it for guys only because the lightning didn’t flash when the girls were there (an attempt to duplicate it for the girls failed.)
CWC never did become a big outreach program to our area schools; instead it cultivated zealous young men. It was short-lived. Norris was fired as youth pastor (the youth group became larger than the congregation and the pastor felt threatened.) He went to another church in town. That didn’t last either. Then he opened a Christian book store which failed and eventually started a work in Manchester Georgia. He died at age 51 and I don’t think he ever re-captured the lightning in the bottle that he had with CWC, but the work he did with us has endured.
CWC grew as a student led organization. I remember coming back from college and being amazed to see 60 guys showing up for a student led Bible study. The six young men that began the group are active in ministry to this day (way better percentages than a Bible school.)
Bill and I started another group called the Christian Student Union that evangelized our high school. Our group bought comic book tracts and left them everywhere. We had both teachers and students come to Christ and quite a few ministers came out of our high school from that period.
My church had no youth pastor so I began preaching to the youth when I was seventeen. The text of my first sermon was Titus 1:16.
So when my son entered high school I was pretty determined that he be in a good youth group so that he could grow in God. I moved my midweek service to Thursday and used Wednesday to take my son to visit youth groups in the area. We made it to precisely one and he found where he wanted to be. Since then, my son has also said “Yes” to a life of ministry. I’ve tried to do the same for the other young people in my church but it hasn’t worked so far.
So, when I was studying the story of Peter and the Temple Tax (see Matthew 17:24-27) for a Thursday night Bible study, I became fascinated by a reference in my favorite commentary that the story of the Temple tax implied that most of the disciples were teenagers because only Jesus and Peter were old enough (20 years old or more) to pay the tax (see Exodus 30:14-15 and take a look at this blog and this follow up blog).
My first thought was “Of course!” My experience in these groups had demonstrated to me the power of a group of zealous teenage men. It makes sense to me that if you are going to invest your life in a few men, they should be young enough that your investment will produce a great return.
It also made much more sense to me for teenagers to leave their nets to follow Jesus. A man with a family to support no longer has that freedom. It also gives an obvious explanation for the three calls of Peter. There is a reason Jesus warned them of the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things. The joy of youth is unhindered by the cares and concerns of those with responsibilities, but they would soon bear those burdens. Having chosen to live my life for Christ at an early age makes remaining focused on building the Kingdom much easier.
It also explained to me why James, the brother of Jesus, became the leader of the Church instead of Peter, James the son of Zebedee or John after the Day of Pentecost (see my comments in the discussion section following the blog post here.)
For a church plant to become self-sustaining, it needs deacons and elders. Once it has deacons and elders, the church planter can move on to plant another church. The church will continue even without a facility or any other permanent structures. To continue to exist indefinitely, the church really only needs to successfully evangelize her own children and train her own youth without significant losses (essentially the Amish model).
For a church plant to be successful you either need to raise up deacons and elders or start off with a group that is capable of filling these roles.
Paul went to the synagogues first where ever he journeyed because these first believers were already trained and raised up in the Word of God. This is how he managed to found the church at Thessalonica in only three weeks.
Many new churches begin as church splits and so have Sunday school teachers and people who are capable of consistent ministry and service or begin in areas that are rapidly growing and so they gain these people from transplants from other areas.
A church plant (or revitalization) apart from this is much more difficult but Jesus gives us the example to follow when He began with youth. He focused His time and energy on them and three and a half years later, the Church was alive and self-sustaining with rock solid leadership.
I do not know how to imitate Him and find a group of young men to disciple. We live in a post-Christian era and from what I’ve seen of our teenagers, their ignorance of God is profound. My latest attempt has left me feeling worn out and overwhelmed by the need. Yet I need to find a way.
Dr. Lester Sumrall said something to this effect “God is going to tell you to do something. You are going to try and fail. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Find another way. The next attempt may fail too. It doesn’t matter. Find another way. You have to do what God has told you to do. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Never, ever, ever give up. Just find another way.”
There is no reward in easy; but to those who persist in their pursuit of God and His will, there is always great reward.
“Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” NKJV
There is much spoken of in the Church today about the love of God for man. That is as it should be. But it should also be pointed out that Nineveh, great city that it was, was destroyed 150 years later. God only relented during Jonah’s day because their wickedness was not yet complete.
We are told God had mercy because they repented and God explains in Jonah chapter four His own reasoning.
God knows us (Psalm 103:14). He knew us before we were born (Jeremiah 1:15; Psalm 139:13). He is there to comfort us when we weep and He mourns with us. He rejoices in our triumphs (Romans 12:15) just as our parents rejoiced with our first steps and our first words. He is a silent witness to our every word and deed both good and evil (Proverbs 15:3). He knows our thoughts (Psalm 139:2). He has counted the number of hairs upon our head (Luke 12:7) and watches over us as we sleep (Psalm 139:13).
God is invested deeply in every soul and it is not His will that any should perish but that all should have everlasting life (2 Peter 3:9).
This is the reason for God’s great mercy. It is why judgment comes so slowly. When it comes, it does not come willingly (Lamentations 3:33). It is a Father coming to the grudging realization that the son He loves must be destroyed for the good of all (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
The Law states that every judge must be a witness to the blood punishments He orders (Deuteronomy 25:1-3). The Law was not written for men but for God and Jesus Christ has fulfilled it and will fulfill it. I have become convinced that God laid out history and has chosen a most brutal course for Himself because it will produce a very great good that could not otherwise happen.
When I speak of the judgment of God, please understand that I am intensely aware that God is passionately in love with every soul that is facing condemnation and these words, His words, are the cry of a brokenhearted Father weeping over His wayward children who are on the path of destruction (Matthew 23:37-38).
I learned to test men and women when I served as a judge for a decade. I discovered how to find out what was really inside of people by reading my Bible and imitating God (Ephesians 5:1).
You see, God tests men to see what is in them (Job 7:18). He does it by putting forth a test and the outcome of the test reveals what is in the heart (Deuteronomy 8:2-20).
The other day while mulling the consequences once again of the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, I felt the Lord speak to me saying, “Why do you fret so much? It is a shibboleth for judgment.”
If you are unfamiliar with a shibboleth, here is the story in the Old Testament:
5 The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” 6 then they would say to him, “Then say, ‘Shibboleth’!” And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites. NKJV
We know when the Lord returns there will be a number of shibboleths by which He will judge: Anyone who takes the Mark of the Beast will join him in torment (Revelation 14:9-11); How people treat the Christian will also be a shibboleth, those who had compassion will enter the Millennium and those who hardened their hearts against them will be destroyed (Matthew 25:31-46).
God is setting forth His shibboleths in preparation for the return of the Lord and for judgment (Jeremiah 17:10).
Now I do not know how far off the Lord’s appearing shall be. I believe that we should all live as though He could return at any moment (Luke 12:35-48). But it seems to me that the Lord is not surprised at all and will turn the enemy’s work against him.
If Congress had passed a law requiring all homosexuals to go to the local courthouse and register their sexual preference, we would have all been appalled. Yet the effect of the decision from the Supreme Court will be the same.
The churn is coming and every evil work will be destroyed. Justice will flow like rivers (Amos 5:24) and it will be terrifying to the wicked (Amos 5:18-20).
God is love (1 John 4:8) but remember dear friends, God is also just (2 Thessalonians 1:6). He must reward the good and punish the bad. For the believer, this means reward for what we do for Him and loss of reward for the unrepentant sins that cling to us. For the wicked, it is far worse. God hardens his face and shows no pity (Deuteronomy 19:21). He strikes hard and does not relent (Isiah 63:1-6).
Some people believe they are Christians but the Lord warns us that many will come saying “Lord, Lord” and He will not accept them (Matthew 7:21).
They may never deny Him by their words, but they deny Him by their actions (Titus 1:16). And Jesus warned us carefully, “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).
God doesn’t lie. A word to the wise is sufficient but a hundred stripes will not persuade a fool (Proverbs 17:10).