Our lives are often marked with defining moments and extraordinary people that God uses to shape who we are. For me, there is one man who stands out above all the rest: Bro. Joe Blackwell. Bro. Joe passed away last summer at the young age of 94. He was a man who loved the Lord Jesus deeply and was a hero of mine. Allow me to tell you the story of his faithfulness that captured my admiration for him…
In 2018/19, I was going through a dark and difficult season of life. I often felt confused and alone. Life was not going as I had hoped and I was tired…tired of the pain and tired of being tired. On Thursday, March 7, 2019, Smoky Gibson (a friend and the Pastor of FBC Biloxi) preached in Leavell Chapel at the New Orleans Baptist Seminary. Though I did not attend that service, I did listen to the sermon as I drove back home that afternoon. I was northbound on the Causeway when I heard him say: “People are praying for you every day. Are you living like it or are you wasting their prayers?” I was angry that Smoky would say that, and I began to weep.
In my weeping and frustration, I cried out to the Lord: “Lord, there is not one person who is praying for me every day!” What I did not know is that God had a message for me the next day. Bro. Joe had asked earlier in the week to meet with me on Friday, to which I agreed (A general rule of thumb: If a retired Pastor asks a young Pastor for a meeting, the young Pastor would be wise to make the meeting.)
The meeting was at 10 AM and when Bro. Joe walked into my office, he said these words: “I am a messenger from the Lord, who has been sent to tell you that I have been praying for you every day, for the past three months.”
I do not remember how long Bro. Joe and I talked for, but I do remember that I wept and poured my heart out to this brother. He listened and he responded with compassion and grace. He prayed for me in those moments and shared some great insight with me, insight that I hope I never forget. Of the many things we discussed, he told me this: “Never forget the Holy Spirit.”
There were other things that Bro. Joe shared with me, and I’ll share those things eventually; until then, here is one lesson that God has reminded me of these past few days and was demonstrated in Bro. Joe’s faithfulness: Be the person who is faithfully praying for someone else. Granted, it is impossible to faithfully and specifically pray for everyone you know. However, for those whom God has given you a burden, you can pray for faithfully. In my immediate context of Student and College Ministry, I recognize, as Richard Ross has noted, that the adult leaders in youth ministries may be the only adults who are faithfully praying for students by name.
So, dear friend, who can you pray for faithfully and by name? May we be a people who emulate Bro. Joe’s example of faithful intercession—albeit our prayers may never be known by anyone other that God himself.
Thank you, God, for Bro. Joe.
On the Journey,
*Article updated for typos on Wednesday, March 10, 2021.*
One of the joys of Student Ministry is seeing the interests, talents, and dreams of students develop over time. I have seen students begin 7th grade with ambitious (and often unrealistic) dreams, only to see them set their hearts on a God-given mission in high school or early college. Likewise, I’ve also seen two other groups of students. One group simply wonders aimlessly into their college experience or work-force career after high school. They have no sense of purpose or desire. They simply do a job to get a paycheck. The other group has purpose and desire, but it is their own sense of purpose and desire. They have set their own course and have a desire in and of themselves. Of these three groups, the first—the group who sets their hearts on a God-given mission—is the smallest and most overlooked of the three…yet it is also the most desired group…sorta.
When I was a student, my Youth Pastor would often encourage us to consider how God might use us should we set our hearts on his kingdom. He would also say that “everyone wants students to set their hearts on God’s mission…until it’s their own children who set their hearts on God’s mission.” I now better understand this statement.
The call of God is always to follow Jesus (Remember the old hymn, “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go”?). The way the call is fulfilled will look different for everyone, but the call is always to follow Jesus. That might mean abandoning the desire/goal/plan to pursue a Medical Degree, Education Degree (as was the case for me), a career that brings in six-figures, and the list goes on. It means that one might be called to move to an impoverished country to live a life on mission for the glory of God. It might mean leaving behind family and friends to move to a new city/town in the US to live missionally in a community deprived of the Gospel.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a doctor, or teacher, or the CEO of a company. However, there is something wrong with it when we remove God from the equation. I have talked with countless students who have a plan and a desire for what they want to pursue after High School. Their dreams are as magnificent as they are grand. As they tell of their dreams, I sit and listen with enthusiasm. I ask questions and encourage them to dream big. Sadly, the dreaming cannot go on forever and so I ask what is generally a bubble bursting question: “That’s awesome! Just one thing. Have you ever consider that God might want to do something different with your life or use those skills and dreams in a much different manner than what you’re talking about?”
The look that usually comes to their faces is one of disappointment, shock, intrigue, and even perplexity. For some, they know God is not calling them to pursue all that they have talked and dreamed about. For others, they simply have not considered it and are disappointed that they might be called to pursue a different path but are intrigued by the possibilities. Still others are simply perplexed and shocked by the very notion that God would want to use them.
As we approach the start of preparations for high school graduation, it is not too late to help students reframe the dream. This is not the sole job of student workers, but rather a cooperative effort between parents, student workers, and godly mentors to simply ask our students: “What if God would use _________ for his glory? What could that look like?”
What might these conversations look like as we have them? Well, I think they could go something like this:
Student: I want to be a doctor and practice medicine in New York City (where I know I can make lots of money).
Adult: Okay. That sounds like a good plan. But what if God would want to use you and your medical degree full-time on the mission field for his glory?
Student: I want to be a teacher in a high-end private school where I know I’ll be taken care of and will have great students.
Adult: Teaching is great! But what if God would want to put your skills and ability to work in a public school where Gospel-influence is basically non-existent so that you can share Jesus with students, parents, and faculty/staff?
Student: I want to get an education and poly-sci degree and then become a politician and make real change.
Adult: That’s an idea. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do politics. But how long will that change last, really? What if God would want to use you and your skills and abilities in the local church to proclaim his gospel, which will bring eternal change to lives of people.
Student: But I can do that [make change] in politics.
Adult: Yeah, you can make change. But what good will that do for the Kingdom?
Student: *sits in disappointed silence. *
Today, I’m answering God’s call because a Godly influence was willing to have the last conversation you just read with me (Both my youth pastor and I knew what God was calling me to do, but I was hesitant.) As we help students look toward the future, we must be careful to not only dream with them, but to remind them that God has a plan and purpose for their life (Jer. 29.11; Mt. 28.18-20; Acts 1.8; Phil. 1.27-30; 1 Thess. 5.16-18, Jude 3). We must help them reframe the dream in light of God’s eternal glory and purpose. We’ve been commanded to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Mt. 6.33) and that applies to all of our pursuits, whether it be marriage, education, career, family, and the list continues.
As we help reframe the dreams, we might discover that God would use our students the exact way they have been talking about, and that’s okay. Whatever he might call us to, he has called us to reflect his love, grace, and mercy to a world that is in desperate need of it. So yes, God can (and does) use Construction Workers, Waiters, Managers, Garbage Men, Delivery People, Doctors, Politicians, Teachers, and countless others for his Kingdom and His glory.
Whatever our students might be called to, may we remind them that God will use their skills, abilities, and desires for his kingdom and may we be found to be their cheerleaders as they answer God’s call.
P.S. If your student is called to ministry and is called to pursue theological education, I recommend Leavell College of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I am thankful for the influence of the professors and I know that they will provide sound theological education and practical training for ministry as your actively serves Christ and His Church
I’m tired, boss. –John Coffey from The Green Mile
For me, this past week began with COVID-19 Symptoms, climaxed with an attack on the US Capitol, and ended with me in an ER room being checked out because of COVID-19. It’s been a long week…it’s been a long year.
On Wednesday, when I heard of the events in D.C., I called a friend and we talked about all that was happening. I was frustrated, angry, and in disbelief. (No, I am not happy with the outcome of the November 3 election, but storming the US Capitol is no way to solve anything.) We talked about the Capitol, the GA Senate election, President Trump, President-Elect Biden, ourselves, and more. In our conversation, I finally said that I’m tired; my friend echoed this sentiment. I’m tired of seeing the division and hate. I’m tired of the rhetoric and the ignorance. I’m tired of the worry and pain. I’m tired of…well…that’s just it. I’m tired.
As I have pondered this, I have been reminded that being tired of this world is a good thing. This world and its system is not my home or hope. It is but a stop on the Disciple’s Journey. I am learning to walk by faith, and I am pursuing my goal, which is Jesus Christ (Phil. 3.12-14). This world is going to beat us down and we will feel needy and oppressed. The Psalmist declared as much in Psalm 40.17: I am oppressed and needy. Yet, the Psalmist also wrote, may the Lord think of me. You are my helper and my deliverer; my God, do not delay.
And there, dear friend, is our hope. The God of the universe, who is “very great; clothed with majesty and splendor” (Psalm 105.1). This God is our help and deliverer and he does not delay. He is our hope and he is the one we look to for strength and encouragement and salvation. If we’re tired, we’re in a good place, as we are being reminded of the Kingdom to come. Paul wrote that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us (Romans 8.18). So, take heart. Better days are head. Our Lord is in control and he is at work in this very moment. He moves in mysterious ways, but ways that are only mysterious to us and not to him.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
-“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” by William Cowper
On the Journey,
Lately, I’ve been reading two books: The Crucified Life (A. W. Tozer) and The Cross of Christ (John R. W. Scott). Tozer dealt specifically with what it means to live the crucified life and Scott dealt with how the Cross, on which our Lord was crucified, impacts our lives daily. As I have read, I have become keenly aware that we tend not to focus on the call of Jesus to come and die.
If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. –Jesus in Mark 8.34 (CSB)
Notice, Jesus told us that the goal is to follow him. But, how do we do that? Well, he gave us the instruction manual: We must deny ourselves, take up [our] cross, and then follow him. For his audience, they clearly understood what he meant, as crucifixion was a regular part of living in the Roman Empire. Their minds would have jumped to any one of the crucifixions that they may have seen. They understood that Jesus was calling them to die. And not only that, but that Jesus was going to lead them there. He showed us how it is to be done…he didn’t just tell us, but he also demonstrated.
In the interest of honesty, the call to come and die is a tough one. At other points, those around Jesus would echo the exact same thing when they heard other teachings (John 6.60). Truth be told, this is hard for us, too. I know it’s hard for me; it’s actually discomforting. However, my discomfort does not negate the call of the Lord Jesus.
You may be thinking: “So, does Jesus call me to physically die for my faith in him?” Well…yes and no. Your life may be required of you and it may not be. There have been many Saints who have not had to give up their physical life for their faith. Likewise, there have been many throughout the centuries and even today that have given their life for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (and have done so joyfully).
Regardless of whether we must give up our physical life for the Lord Jesus, there is a call to a daily death. A daily death to the habits and tendencies of the old nature that remain (Rom. 12.1-12), though the old nature has been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2.20). We are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice…but that is never convenient. Tozer wrote that he never knew a man who found it convenient to die. Frankly, neither have I, nor do I find it convenient.
But why the call to die? I’ve been walking through the “I AM” statements in John with my students. Last night, we were dealing with John 10.1-10. As I got to verse 10 (A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance), I was reminded that we must first die to the flesh and the things of the world before we can have life and life abundant. But why must we die first? Simple. The flesh must be dealt with and it is only dealt with when we identify with the Lord Jesus and recognize that, in Christ, we have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2.20).
Yes. This is a hard thing to grasp and even harder to do. I’ve often heard that “the problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the alter.” Yet, we are called to place ourselves there. We are to go humbly and obediently to whatever cross the Holy Spirit has chosen for us. We are to trust his wisdom and judgement. In the words of Tozer:
The only cure for our worldliness is the cross. We cannot put ourselves on the cross. We cannot choose the cross on which we will be crucified….[There are] various kinds of crosses—gold, silver, brass, wood, paper. The only thing they have in common is that they crucify. How the cross will be used in your life is at the discretion of the Holy Spirit….Our responsibility is to yield to His wisdom and allow Him to do the work without any advice from us (“The Crucified Life”, pg. 143-144).
I simply argue that the cross be raised again