When I take stock of my life, I feel there has been a fair amount of sadness because so many I have loved have been taken away by that old and final enemy, death. Yet, Christ has used it. The Lord began working behind the scenes and openly when I was a young child. When I was four, my dad died of cancer. Before he died, he attempted to build a house for his young family that we may have something after he is gone. It was foolish but it was also the means that brought him to faith. Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses came and helped him build the home. Praise God that he listened to the true Gospel presented by the Baptists and accepted the Lord’s gracious offer of salvation before he passed. We tried to go to Church for as long as possible when I was young but of course my mother could not keep it up while holding down three jobs and raising three children. I was not raised in the Church but went to it occasionally through my grandmother and others. Flannery O’Connor was right to point out that the South may not be Christ-centered but it is certainly Christ-haunted. Religious symbols and stories of Jesus have floated around my life for as long as I can remember. It is just the nature of living in the Bible belt.
My father’s death had a profound impact upon me. He in a lot of ways was an echo, a reverberation. He is like the ripple of waves from a stone that’s been thrown in the water. I saw the waves but not the stone. He influenced me and even defines how I treat my neighbors in some fashion. Yet, I do not know him. At least not first-handedly. He knows me. He held me. He comforted me. He probably more times than he wanted to, changed my diapers. And, I never knew him. I know him now through the stories of my family and echoes of his absence. I only have one memory of him. His death and the lack of a father made me a very angry child. Other kids had dads to go fishing with and do father and son things. I had and have a great mom but I still had a gaping hole in my life. A father-sized whole. As life went on, so did death. I was really close to one of my grandmother’s sisters who worked at the library. I’ve always been a reading person so I would visit the library often. I remember Aunt Lou dying of cancer not too long after Dad. She was only the beginning. My mom eventually remarried and I got close to the only grandfather I’ve ever know, Buddy Smith. In the course of time though, cancer robbed me again of a piece of joy. He wasted away from cancer just like the others. One of my best friend’s dads tragically died from a car wreck out of the blue. I remember being even more angry. Others less important to me died. Everyone dies.
My grandmother’s death was the final blow. She in a lot of ways was the only bridge between my father and me. My mom had moved on and remarried. Nanny as we called her would share things about my father and keep him alive in my memory and heart. Sadly, out of the blue, my uncle showed up to our house with tears in his eyes. Nanny had suddenly died in the hospital. We did not even know she was there. We had no clue. My bridge to my father had been burned and I lost a source of great comfort and security in her. As I type this now, tears are welling up because I have forgotten so much about her—the sound of her voice, her smell, her advice, many of the things she taught my brother and I about my Dad. Her death though brought about good in my life. She knew the Lord. She talked about the Lord often with us. She took us to Sunday school when my brother and I were able to come.
After her death, I sought the Lord. I visited a few youth groups but found them to be hollow and fake. I was hurting both from the deaths and just the weight of my own sin. Simple platitudes and clichés were not sufficient. I heard the Gospel in small doses but rejected it. There was preaching but no power or passion behind it. Their programs had failed me because it lacked a strong sense of the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the beauty of the Gospel. Soon after becoming bored with these churches, I was invited to a revival by a Free Holiness friend. I reluctantly agreed to go to the revival all week because he was so warm and inviting. I honestly thought these people were out of their minds. The Holiness movement was a forerunner to modern day Pentecostals. They spoke (yelled?) in tongues, did glory laps around the Church, testified nonsense publically, and a host of other odd things. All week long I secretly made light of the spectacle. The last night the “evangelist” named brother Ed preached the heaviest hell-fire and brimstone message I’ve ever heard. It was not a Christ-centered message. The Gospel was very light. Yet, God saved me in spite of that. At the altar call, I went up and pleaded with the Lord to save me. I knew what God required of man because I had listened to the Baptists. The holiness altar is not like a Baptist altar call. You don’t go up, say a prayer, and then get your name on the roll. You cast yourself upon the mercy of God until he saves you. If you’re going to do an altar call, that is certainly the way to do it. In my deadness and deafness, God spoke the words “LIVE” and he graciously imparted new life into me. I was only fourteen years old but the guilt of my sin had made me bitter and old. It was all removed in an instant. In that moment, all the anger dissipated because I, a prodigal, had gained a Father. I was home.
I had problems right out of the gate. I knew the exact moment Christ had removed my sins. There was a joy placed in my heart and a weight of guilt lifted out of my life. Yet, the holiness people were misled. I went to get up and they told me “You’re not finished. You’re not saved yet. You gotta speak in a tongue or you’re not done yet.” I don’t know why I listened. It was likely because I was such a young kid. They had me stay on the ground and repeat a phrase until I became tongue-tied. I felt I was on my knees for an hour. Finally, they pronounced me a true Christian. I was a believer an hour earlier. It only got worse with the Holiness group. I’m tempted to call them a cult. They taught me that if you sinned, you immediately lost your salvation. Because of that, they built massive walls of legalism around me and themselves. I could only wear pants, I couldn’t watch tv, I couldn’t go to football games, I could not associate with the lost or even other Christians in other churches. Of course only Holiness people were going to heaven. Everyone else was deceived and going to hell. They even went as far as publically attacking my family and attempted to get me to live with them. My own dear mother! My sister and brother! Luckily, my mother fought back and reached out to various churches around town. She called one church and he told her that she had basically lost her son. The pastor told her nothing could be done. She cried in tears but received a call from their youth minister moments later. He had heard the conversation and thought the pastor was dead wrong. Praise God that pastor was wrong.
That youth minister, Doug Browner, came to my house that night with his Bible. I was skeptical of him because of course I thought he was deceived. What he did was the wisest thing a youth minister can do. He asked me to tell him what I had been taught and then he showed me in the pages of God’s Word where it was dead wrong. The verse that broke my heart and opened my eyes was 1 John 1:8-10 which says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” He asked me who should I believe—the holiness group or God? The decision was easy! I left their little group and joined the Baptist church that was literally 35 feet to the right of their church. The providence of God is hilarious! I have often wondered why God would appoint such a bout of persecution right out of the gate but I do not wonder too much. He used it for good in my life and the lives of others. My mother and brother have made professions of faith. Today, that youth minister who came to my aid a decade ago is now my mother’s pastor. He is such a gentle, loving man of God.
God has been so faithful to me. He immediately provided a wonderful, godly youth minister that put my nose in the Bible. He told me the only way to never be deceived again was to know Scripture like the back of my hand. He was correct. Through the reading of God’s Word daily before school, I discovered the deep joy-sustaining doctrines of grace. They have been precious to me in some of my darkest times. The pastor at First Baptist Church discipled me while I was there. I joined the FCS at my school and led it for two years. I ended up going overseas on a missions trip to China and South Korea. The experience was life-changing. I had always planned on being a history teacher when I grew up. After returning, I felt the Lord’s leading to lay it all down and seek his will for my career. One night in Isaiah 6, I felt the call to ministry through Isaiah’s commissioning. I yielded my life to full-time ministry and was given many opportunities to serve and preach. I reasoned that I ought to be equipped before going overseas to serve as a missionary so I went to Southeastern Bible College. I was mentored by two godly men who loved me well. One was the most humble man I have ever met. God used Gary Greene to make me a more humble man. He suddenly died of a heart attack in his office one morning and the Lord used that to kill my pride. I also had another friend abruptly go to meet the Lord in my dorm. He walked into his room and never walked out. Death has been so pervasive in my life but the Lord’s nearness has been my good. While learning, I served the school by leading the men’s ministry for three years. Through my studies at SEBC, I discovered I enjoyed the more academic side of our faith so am now pursuing graduate studies at NOBTS and will hopefully doing PhD work if the Lord wills it. The plan is to train and equip pastors overseas by teaching theology. We have so many resources here while pastors lack in other places all over the world. I’ve been also to Swaziland, South Africa, and Belize in the past on missions trips. My passion is to see the Gospel spread throughout the world that our worthy God may receive the worship he justly deserves.
After arriving in New Orleans, I was hired at Grace Presbyterian Church in Metairie, LA where I serve as the youth and college director. I am not a youth minister by trade but have learned so much. I have some godly youth who love the Gospel and I serve under men that are marked by God to humbly serve and lead this church. I’m a resident assistant in my dorm, I’m a brother, I’m a son. I’m a boyfriend, and I’m a follower of Christ. There have been so many struggles, both ups and downs but the Lord has remained beside me through it all. I have learned to trust the complete and total sufficient of Christ’s death for me in every area of life. His death has ruptured the strangle-hold of sin in my life. He has defeated the penalty, the power, and the presence (not fully yet until death) of sin in my life. I believe Jesus is worthy of the worship of every single creature who has ever breathed one breath upon this earth. I’ve learned that God’s Word is of GREAT importance. I have had to hide it in my heart that I might not sin against him. He has used the Word to wound, encourage, make wise, rebuke, reprove, build up, and lead me so often. His grace is matchless! In the words of John Newton, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am” By grace, I will overcome and continue to be used to extend the kingdom of Christ. It is all grace from start to finish!