Going on mission with Blanket America Ministries (BAM) has been a special and unexpected blessing every year. I say unexpected because we always see God moving through His people in an exceptional way . . . and through us.
The first year Betty and I were sent to Heritage Baptist Church (HBC) in Hiltons, VA and we have been going back to this same stronghold of faith ever since. Don’t look for it on your GPS though–ya ain’t a gonna find it. And you won’t find a website for Heritage Baptist either, a church small in numbers, but mighty in the love of Jesus.
I tell people I meet that the folks at First Baptist Church of Matthews, my home church, are some of the most prayerful, Spirit-engaged people I have seen in any church I have ever attended. If someone has a need they don’t just say, “I’ll pray for you” and go on their way. No-no they strive to find a way to fill that corporeal need as well, whatever it is.
The folks at Heritage are special also. How special? They have an abundance of wealth, spiritual wealth, a consequent of their extraordinarily tender hearts for God. They put on no pretenses, nor do they wallow in their own self-importance and busyness. What you see is what you get from them and what they see is what they accept of others. No matter how wretched the life, they strive to bring the lost to Christ.
I say this because I have seen this evidenced over and above the once a year event ministry of BAM. It begins with the love of their Pastor, Larry Browder; a love for the things of God and the truth of God; a love that it is evident in all of his sweet flock. They love Jesus.
Of course BAM’s fundamental reason for going to Appalachia is to spread the Good News that Jesus, the Son of God (the Father) came as man, lived a sinless life, and died in our place for our sins, and defeated death by His Resurrection. Yet the Bible never tells us to make converts—that is empty evangelism; that is disobedience to God. I am not speaking of a works based salvation, but the baby dies if left unattended.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “but we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13; ESV). Why didn’t Paul write that we are saved through justification? Paul is teaching what Christ taught. True salvation comes through not in a salvific instant, but by a lifelong process of discipling; that is sanctification, being discipled and discipling others.
Remember Jesus’ parable of the soils and all the seeds that were snatched away, useless, or destroyed. But the seed that fell in the good soil “grew up and increased.” To grow and increase the small seed must be watered, cultivated, and weeded. Jesus Himself explained this parable in Mark 4:13-20.
In the same way when a man hears the Gospel and accepts it as truth he already has weed seed growing in him from a life lived without the Truth (John 14:6). Therefore, he needs to know this salvation is assured, taught the truths of the scriptures, the importance prayer, encouraged and taught to tell others the Good News, and to disciple others in an intentional, systematic, relational way. This allows a fairly objective accountability to take place as well.
That is what Jesus taught. You can readily see that these kernels of truth in 2 Thessalonians and Mark reinforce and validate the preeminence of Jesus’ final command in Matthew 28, to make disciples. That is a command, not a suggestion. If we are obedient to God’s Word we cannot pick and choose which parts of the Bible we want to obey and which we don’t. Yet Christians and churches all over America either misunderstand or ignore the mandate to make disciples.
Last year a man named Larry came to Christ. Larry had physical problems. At the worship service on Sunday following the BAM service day, there was Larry, all cleaned up and smiling on the last pew. On subsequent Sunday’s following BAM weekend Larry would come to church. But after a couple of months he just dropped off of the radar.
This is exemplar of the importance of having a plan for discipleship in place. What would you say if asked, “if you were responsible for a recently converted Christian, what would you do to maximize the chances of this new Christian maturing in Christ?”[i] The truth is few of have a valid answer.
My heart and ministry, the ministry of Discipleship Dynamx is to get the church to return to the discipleship mandated by Christ. It is not our job to be successful, but to be faithful. Discipling another is hard work because it is time consuming and relational.
But here is “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say. It turns out that Vernon, a man that came to Blanket America this year was the roommate of Larry—who had fallen of our radar screen. On Sunday Vernon came to worship—but Larry wouldn’t come.
Beth, a member of HBC, felt led by the Spirit to go pick up Larry. She told me later Larry didn’t want to come because he was drunk. Beth didn’t quit. If I have this right, Beth not only got Larry to come to church, but talked him out of a case of beer—half of his stash! This is a guy living on about $500/month.
At the end of the service Pastor Larry gave the requisite Gospel invitation. Larry got up and made a beeline for the back of the sanctuary. I remember thinking, “Oh no, he is rejecting Christ.” Remember he had made a confession of faith the previous year at Blanket Appalachia. My wife Betty turned to me and said “go after him.” I did.
But by the time I walked out the door one of the ladies (I don’t know her name) had already arrested Larry’s retreat into oblivion and was holding his dirty hands in hers and talking to him. She was doing a great job, I just stood by. When she hugged Larry and began to pray I joined in the hug and the prayer.
When she finished she walked away, I talked to Larry for a bit. Then Ricky came out and joined in. One of the volunteers with Blanket America who was from a church in South Carolina and worshipping with us at HBC that morning joined our group around Larry. As he spoke he caressed a small black and gold cross. With tears welling up in his eyes he told us that cross had been given to him eight years earlier when he trusted in Jesus. He also said he wouldn’t give it up for anything. Yet the felt led to give it to Larry.
God was moving
This church is now getting solid, proven materials to be successful in grounding new Christians in the faith. Discipleship Dynamx is pleased to be of some small assistance in this church’s initiating biblically grounded discipleship. Now Larry, Vernon, and others will be discipled systematically, intentional, personal way.
How about you? How about your church?
Are you really following the command to make disciples in obedience to His Word?
[i] Grant Edwards, Swimming Lessons (Specificity Publications), 8, adapted.