Whether by default or design, everyone is exercising influence – all the time. For good or for evil, for righteousness or for wrong, each of us is making our mark on mankind. With our words and ways, our deeds and desires, our attitudes and our actions, we are living a life worthy either of emulation or avoidance. Thus, no one ever fully escapes the unrelenting responsibility of exercising our influence effectively.
The atheist, Max Jutes, lived out his godless life as a neighbor to the extraordinary 18th century preacher, Jonathan Edwards. He declared Edwards to be a scourge to the community and sought to destroy him in every way. Believing that men were best served by living their lives in the context of the secular, rather than the sacred, world, Jutes sought to persuade the public that Edward’s faith was a farce.
Not coincidentally, when, in an effort to calculate the sum of public funds invested in their respective families, New York state officials compared the descendants of Edwards and Jutes, the differences in the two men were brought into sharp relief. The 540 individuals who could be positively traced to Max Jutes were less than half the 1,394 who followed in the footsteps of Jonathan Edwards.
But not surprisingly, the difference was not just one of quantity, but quality as well. Of those 540 who descended from Jutes, 310 were said to have died paupers – no fewer than 150 had criminal records – 7 were in fact found guilty of murder – at least 100 were drunkards and more than half the women were believed to be involved in prostitution. It was estimated that these individuals cost the state some $250,000 in 18th century currency, or approximately ten million of today’s dollars.
Conversely, among the 1,394 descendants of Jonathan Edwards were 13 college presidents – 65 university professors – 3 United States Senators – 30 judges – 100 lawyers – 60 physicians – and at least 75 who served as military officers. More than 100 of Edwards’ offspring became ministers or missionaries – 60 were prominent authors – 1 served as Vice President of the United States – and at least 80 others were public officials in some capacity. Of the 295 who were college graduates, several were either state governors or members of the foreign service. Obviously, his descendants did not cost the state of New York, but contributed to the welfare of society both naturally and spiritually.
Suffice it to say, the wise man was right when he wrote, The memory of the just is blessed. (Proverbs 10:7) Whether as a father to his family, a pastor to parishioners, or just a man to his friends, we must constantly and carefully consider both the ability – and the responsibility – we have to exercise our influence effectively.
Maybe now, more than ever, we must be men of substance to whom others can tether their lives in our out of orbit age. May the proclamation of Paul to young Timothy find its fulfillment in us, That, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men: For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour: Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1st Timothy 2:1,3-4)
I was raised in a fundamental independent Baptist church. At the age of 20 I felt God call me to the ministry. I then went to Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University) in Lynchburg, VA to pursue a degree in theology. While enrolled there, I purposely studied the tenets of every major religion. I wanted to be sure of what I believed. I was convinced that I had experienced Bible salvation because I had believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and accepted Him as my personal Savior and because I had been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
The day I had a chance encounter with a stranger, a Rev. Robert E. Coleman, who witnessed to me about the necessity of Jesus’ Name baptism and the infilling of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues, my world was turned upside down. Although I had studied the beliefs of many other major denominations and religious organizations, I had never heard this message. It shook me to me my core. I did not readily receive it, but it did plant a seed of conviction in me. As I continued my college studies, I began a quest for validation of my own salvation experience and to disprove what I had heard. But in the process God began to reveal apostolic truth to me.
When I enrolled at Liberty I was required to sign a statement that said that I believed that the sign gifts had passed away with the apostles and that I would not participate in the laying on of hands, healing the sick or speaking in other tongues. However, after I was witnessed to and began to search the Word, I came to the conclusion that the Holy Ghost was for today—which was in total contradiction to what I was being taught. I then began to seek for passages of scripture that would confirm what God was revealing to me. Once convinced, I began to diligently seek for the Holy Ghost in the dormitory prayer room although I did not know exactly what to do or what to expect. I had no one to instruct or encourage me and I was constantly in fear of being caught. After several days of seeking, I began to get discouraged and think that maybe it wasn’t for me. I asked God to prove to me that it was real. That evening, after I had gone to bed, I woke up out of a sound sleep around 1 a.m. speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave the utterance.
After receiving the Spirit, the Bible became alive to me. As I would read, words would seemingly jump off the page. I began to pray that God would show me the truth about baptism. I was still wrestling with what Rev. Coleman had said to me a year earlier. Although I had been baptized in the titles, I had been taught that it wasn’t necessary for salvation. A few days later in Greek class, the professor announced Colossians 2:11-12 as the topic of discussion. “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”
My instructor, who had been mentored by F.F. Bruce (one of the foremost Greek scholars), argued that circumcision of the heart happened immediately at water baptism. It made me realize that baptism was a necessity for salvation. As the class discussed the passage further I realized that the words “buried with him” meant in baptism in Jesus’ Name rather than in the titles Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The proper pronoun for the titles would have read “buried with them.” Other passages that helped to clarify Jesus’ Name baptism for me were: Romans 6:3-4, Titus 3:5, Mark 16:16, and John 3:5. A special moment of revelation was when I read Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:36-38 together. I realized it was only ten days later and that Matthew was there on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached the apostolic message of repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ Name and the infilling of the Holy Ghost.
Although the truth of Jesus’ Name baptism was being made known to me I did not have any connections to anyone who believed apostolic doctrine. The man who initially witnessed to me was a stranger I had met in another state while working during the summer between semesters and I had had no further contact with him. So I just continued studying to be a Baptist minister, not knowing quite what to do with what God was showing me. After graduation, I returned to my hometown of Galax, VA and took a job as a youth pastor at the Baptist church my parents attended.
While sitting at home one day, I began to read a tract entitled “Has the blood been applied to your life?” I’m not sure where I got the tract, but I realized after reading the scripture passage used (John 19:33-34) that the blood of Jesus was applied in his death. When I compared it to Romans 6:3-4, the phrase “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” exploded in my mind. I realized that since I had not been baptized in Jesus’ name I had not reached the blood of Christ. From that moment on I knew I was without salvation. I had experienced repentance which changed my life, but it did not save me. I had experienced the Holy Ghost, which had brought great illumination of the scriptures to my life, but I still needed to be baptized in Jesus’ Name.
That night I could not sleep. God had been dealing with me for over three years regarding Jesus’ name baptism. He told me that he would withdraw Himself from me if I did not respond to the truth that had been revealed.
The next morning my mother came in my room and handed me a letter from Rev. Barry Bleigh, a United Pentecostal Church minister from Lynchburg, VA., another stranger whom I had never met. Through a series of providential circumstances someone I knew from college had contacted him and told him of my interest in apostolic doctrine. He wrote to me explaining my need of Jesus’ Name baptism. He invited me to come back to Lynchburg and visit him. I drove back to Lynchburg a few days later and met with him during the day at the church he pastored. He prayed with me in his office and God renewed my experience of the Holy Ghost. I then asked him to baptize me in Jesus’ Name.
When I came up out of the water, I felt free. I felt the burden of running from truth lift off of me. I was engulfed by God’s love and a peace I could not describe. I was overcome with joy and laughed for over thirty minutes. The witness of how I felt was further confirmation to me that Jesus’ Name baptism was right. I will forever be grateful for the revelation I have received.
I was aware as a boy that the Bible said something about “it is better to give than to receive,” but I am not sure if I believed it. The idea that giving something away would somehow be better than receiving it was not a concept that I was able to get my brain around.
My parents were givers and taught my sister and me to give, but human nature and all its appetites attempt to override Bible-based teaching. The secret to discovering the joy of giving is that giving has to be practiced. After having traveled to more than a hundred countries and been a part of numerous mission projects, I am convinced that giving is the key to living a life of purpose and passion.
Giving, by its very nature loves company. A great experience is greater when shared. When you learn the joy of giving you want to get others involved in the fun. Some fifteen years ago, we started taking our men on building trips to third world countries. Our mission was to build churches and help our missionaries. We soon learned that we benefitted more than the recipients.
The group of guys from Palm Bay, Florida that paid their expenses and took a week off of work only to arrive in the sweltering heat of the Amazon basin never had so much fun. Putting a new roof on the central church in Manaus, Brazil was the mission, but the joy is in the journey. The challenges of language barriers, lack of tools and dehydration is lost on the camaraderie that develops between men united for a similar cause.
It didn’t hurt that the work was peppered with anointed church services and fishing for peacock bass from the pontoon of a floatplane. Or sleeping in a hammock on the Amazon river with only the sound of howling monkeys and croaking frogs to serenade you to sleep. A place where your cell phone is only used as a coaster for your diet coke. Luxury has its limits. Nature reminds us that less is more and purpose is more powerful than a purse full of pennies.
Only two months earlier, our team of men with a revelation of what real living is all about had joined with another church from Bloomington, Minnesota and traveled to Santiago in the Dominican Republic to build a church. The first day they hauled buckets of concrete upstairs to finish pouring the walls. They trudged back to the room like an army of men walking out of a bomb shelter. I tried to cheer them up with steak dinners.
The next day as we laid out the pattern for the wooden trusses and began to construct them with glue and screws, we quickly discovered that the trusses were all stuck together and would have to be dissembled. The electricians could not make heads or tails with the beehive of wires that would be our source of power, and yet everything worked out as two groups of men from two different parts of the country built a church in a third world country and became life long friends.
Somehow in just three days, we forgot about all the unexpected setbacks and had completed building a church. I had brought my twin sons on this trip so they could learn the value of hard work and fall in love with missions. Other fathers had done the same. We concluded the trip with a free day of climbing waterfalls and cliff jumping, but the testimonies at the dedication service revealed that the best part of the journey were the smiles and tears of the faces of the young congregation that now had their very own church.
Santiago was preceded with five trips and dozens of men going to Guatemala City to help build a children’s orphanage. Guatemala is a country that has three generations and hundreds of people living in the landfills and thousands of orphans living on the street. In a fertile valley of farmland in the shadow of a smoking volcano now lays a city of refuge. A first class place of hope and care. It is beautiful to behold and to think of the lives that are going to change, but I can’t help but reflect on all the lives of grown men from America that have been changed forever by giving and going.
A growing church is a giving church. Sometimes we think we have to be bigger or more blessed before we can give, but the opposite is true. Giving precedes growing. A person who gives of his or her time, talent and treasure grow as a person. We become what God has designed us to be. A growing church is a going church. Many years ago Jesus instructed his followers to GO. This mandate was not just for the propagating of the gospel; it was the formula for abundant life.