“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new "2 Corinthians 5:17
Thirty-five years. Thirty-five incredible years. 1983, for me, slowly evolved into a very good year, a life changing year, a year that altered my dreams, my destiny, my desires, and my devotion. It was the year that I would meet a beautiful young lady who would gently, yet firmly, share the truth of Jesus Christ with me. It was the year that I would hear her witness, and eventually pray for God's grace to be real in my own despicable life. Thirty-five years. Thirty-five incredible years of walking with Jesus. Thirty-five years...
In June of 1983, I had no idea that I would soon be a student at Mississippi State University. My life began to unravel during my final year of high school. This unraveling spun totally out of control as a Freshman seeking to find my way at the first university that I attended. I say that I was a Freshman, but I actually began my experience of higher education as a Sophomore, as I had received advanced credit for all of my core Freshman courses based upon my ACT score. I accepted an academic scholarship that covered all of my tuition, books, room and board, along with a meal plan for dining in the school cafeteria. This university had very high expectations for me as a student, and I was about to royally disappoint them. My first semester was more or less uneventful as I was trying to adjust to my new surroundings. By the time classes resumed in January, I realized there was much more to college life than classes, homework, tests and term papers. I decided I should make a few corrections to my lifestyle as the semester ended very poorly, but changes externally didn't produce any internal adjustments. My second year would not be finalized, as I was given an ultimatum during the spring semester by the Dean of Students to either withdraw from all my classes and leave the school voluntarily, or be expelled and escorted away by campus police. He said that I had twenty-four hours to make up my mind, but I decided before leaving the building to sign the necessary documents, gather my belongings, and head for home.
To be perfectly honest, I do not have any recall as to the reaction of my family. They knew the circumstances, and I'm sure their hearts were broken over my foolish choices and decisions. But it was the spring of the year - an extremely busy season in the Mississippi Delta - and I resumed my position on the farm. I began to work again for my two uncles, which I had been doing since I was about age twelve. Returning home and working didn't solve my problems, however, as they just intensified with a steady paycheck. Now I had those finances that at one time hindered me from fulfilling much of my wicked desires. With money in my pockets, I could expand my horizons when it came to searching for new adventures, usually entailing wild parties, loud music, ample liquor, illegal drugs, and plenty of loose women. It was also amazing how many friends I amassed with my ability of foot the bill. Like the prodigal in Luke 15, I hand plenty of friends, as long as I had plenty of money.
It seems that with each decision that I would make, circumstances did not get any better, they only got worse. Uncomfortable encounters with family, as well as with the law, would cause me to make promises that I could not keep. The book of Proverbs says, "As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool returns to his folly." My life was a perfect example of that eternal truth. In the first few weeks of 1983, I befriended a man several years older than I, and he quickly introduced me to new companions that carried me deeper into the darkness. There were times when we struck out on the trail for new experiences with the wrong crowd, that would have me absent from my family and from my job for days at a time. Funny how working with family always keeps the door of employment open for you, when you really should have been fired. Some of these adventures I can barely remember. I vaguely recall where we planned to go, but I cannot recollect if we ever made it to our destination, what happened while we were there, and how we made it back home. Life during that time was like a dense fog, and how I lived through it is a testimony of God's mercy.
June, 1983, as far as I can remember, is when my precious Mom finally had enough of me and my ways. I had broken her heart too many times. She confronted me in the garage with anger, fear, love and rage all mixed together. With her hands on my shoulders, she shook me as best she could, crying and saying, "I don't know where you'll go and what you'll do, but you've got six weeks to get out of my house! I can't take this anymore!" I looked at her beautiful face, all red with emotion and covered in tears, jerked her hands off of me, and walked inside. To be totally honest, I wanted to hit her. As I pondered this encounter, I knew I had to make plans, but I couldn't think of anything. I didn't know it then, but Mom was practicing tough love on me before James Dobson ever wrote a book about it.
Before the dust settled from this episode, I came home from work one day to find out that a dear friend from high school was going to be home for a few days from Mississippi State, and she wanted to see me. Lisa had done quite well at MSU. Good grades, really popular, school beauty, Homecoming Queen, etc., and this girl wanted to see me while she was home. I got ready as fast as possible and drove at breakneck speed to Scott, Mississippi. In the midst of my excitement, I had forgotten that Lisa was a Jesus girl, and as soon as I got reacquainted with her, she began preaching to me about my lifestyle. The audacity of that girl, for if there was one thing I really despised, it was anyone meddling in my life and preaching to me! Oh well, as beautiful as she was, I could endure her sermons for the opportunity to just look at her.
In the midst of those few visits with Lisa, she talked at length about me trying to get back in school, and making a fresh start at MSU. Since I had the ultimatum from my Mom, with a time frame of getting out of her house, I decided to take Lisa's advice and call the number that she gave me about transferring to State. The lady on the phone had a nice voice and was very kind. When I told her the reason for my call, she informed me that I had just missed the deadline for applying as a transfer student. My heart sank, but then she said, "I tell you what, I will mail you an application today, but promise me to fill it out and mail it back the same day that you receive it. That means that you need to secure a copy of your transcript from your previous college, so that you can be ready to send it back to me on the very same day. You promise me that you'll do this?" I assured her that I would, and she bid me a pleasant farewell. When I got off the phone, I immediately began to wonder what kind of response she would have to my transcript. I thought surely she would burst out laughing and show everyone in the office what kind of idiot I was for trying to enroll at MSU. But since I promised her I would do it, I thought, oh well, it won't hurt anything to try.
July, 1983. To my utter amazement, I received a positive letter from MSU not long after I mailed the requested material to the Office of Enrollment. I had failed to meet the deadline, my transcript was atrocious, and yet I was reading an acceptance letter that opened with this word in all caps: CONGRATULATIONS! As I continued reading, my heart sank. Yes, I had been accepted, but it was on a probationary status, and only about twelve hours of course work would be accepted. Plus, all of the advanced credit for the core Freshman courses were deemed unacceptable. As I read the letter, I thought, "Well this is just dandy, I'm 21 years old and will have to sit in classrooms alongside immature teenagers with zits and fake ID's." But at least I had the problem solved as to where I'd go, and what I'd be doing, even before my Mom's tearful deadline had come to pass.
"Why do you seek the living among the dead?" Luke 24:5
Two angelic messengers asked this powerful question to those fearful women who had made their way to the tomb on Sunday morning in order to insure that Jesus had a more proper burial. But the One they believed needed appropriate spices added to his grave clothes had already walked out of His borrowed tomb. The sting of death had been swallowed up in victory, and His glorious gospel was about to embark on a global tour that continues to change our world!
I remember several years ago, while traveling in itinerant ministry, how the Lord led me to only speak on the subjects of biblical revival, lifestyle repentance, personal brokenness, and the need to be emptied of self and filled with the Spirit. As I was obedient to what I believed was His will, I noticed how few church members wanted to hear these truths. Although God gave me great liberty and fresh anointing to preach His word, the responses during these meetings were always the same: personal indifference and corporate unconcern.
Knowing that I was doing what He required of me, I began asking for a demonstration of His mighty power at work in and among His people. There were times when I wept at how callous the hearts of church members were to God's truth. Easter season was approaching at this time, and I was re-reading the gospel accounts of this most blessed event, when I saw Luke 24:5 in a whole different light. As I had been burdened to pray for a work among God's people, desiring to see church members repent of their sin and renew their love for Jesus in order to experience abundant life in His grace, God seemed to ask me, "Charles, why do you seek the living among the dead?" In other words, why are you looking for a demonstration of the abiding life of Christ in those people who might be considered religious, and who proudly wear a Baptist label, yet are spiritually dead?
Alarming statistics are once again moving me when I read that we have some 15 million Southern Baptists on our church rolls, but on any given Sunday only about 5 million will be actively involved in the life of their church. This means that only about 30-35% of members actually attend, while the other 65-70% rarely see the need for worship, fellowship and discipleship. Even more heart breaking is the fact that our church is very much average in this statistical scenario. We have 463 total members, yet can only expect to have some 150 in attendance on Sunday mornings, even less on Sunday and Wednesday nights. Now I understand that some certainly have legitimate reasons for non-participation, but this would only represent a very small minority. Most are absent because of illegitimate excuses! They are not enthusiastically involved in the life of the church because they don't want to be. Which reminds me of another verse: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that they were not of us." 1 John 2:19
"I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.
I will never forget a word of warning that I received from a much older pastor when I was just getting my feet wet in service to a local church. This seasoned veteran of gospel ministry spoke about "The Spirit of Diotrephes" that can be found in so many churches. He spoke from personal and painful experiences from his own life. He clearly shared how a Diotrephes will be found in nearly every church, no matter the size, nor the location. Diotrephes might be one person, man or woman, who believes that he or she is supposed to run the church. It might be a collection of high-minded individuals who actually hold authority over God's church as an elected committee, or an unscriptural deacon body (often called a board of deacons in such situations). Or it could be an unnamed clique in the church, who wrongly believe that they should secretly control the body of Christ.
It makes no difference how the spirit of Diotrephes is manifested, the truth found in 3 John leaves no room for the imagination. Diotrephes, and those who are like him, desire to have the "preeminence" in the church. This should be very troubling, as the Bible says, "And He (Jesus) is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence." Friend, there is only room for one to be head of the church, to have the preeminence, and that is Jesus! John said that Diotrephes would not allow his letter to be read to the church, and that he prated against John with malicious words (oh the powerful poison of the untamed tongue). John also said that this man would not allow special guests to speak to the church, and would even show church members the door when they attempted to usurp his perceived authority. It's hard for me to even imagine the enormous ego of this foolish man.
But John did not call Diotrephes foolish, he labeled him as evil, and lost. "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God" is the way that the Holy Spirit had John to close this section concerning this man. As precious as the body of Christ is to the heart of God, no wonder He took exception to the callous control that Diotrephes sought to wield over the church. What should our response be when we encounter someone with the spirit of Diotrephes? Humility, prayer, faith, and the power of the word of God will give us the victory. No need to try and duke it out with such a one like this, for the "weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for the pulling down of strongholds!" (2 Corinthians 10:4)
Has agreed to allow Job2ten to pass along some of his words of wisdom. Be sure to go visit his blog to get to see all his content.