A Very Cool Story of Salvation

December 19, 2014 Category :Blog 0

Many of us at SEBTS enjoyed a great month in September related to our “I am going” theme. The “30 Days of Going” brought many of us together to speak to someone about Jesus every day that month. Here is a great story from one of my students named Brooke:

It all started on August 27, 2014 when Brooke was walking home from school after evangelism class: “I saw this young lady sitting on the ground by the bus stop in between the campus and the duplex housing. She had many piercings, jet black hair with hot pink streaks, and she didn’t say hello first. I approached her and said hello and asked her name, and she told me. I then began asking her a series of questions: where are you from, how long have you lived in Wake Forest, what are you doing here, and so on. She noticed I had a LSU shirt on with a LSU tumbler as well. She was from Louisiana and had moved here only 3 weeks earlier. I was stunned. I came to find out in that conversation that her boyfriend lives in Alabama and I’m from Alabama, and  her mom’s birthday is my birthday! I asked her where she was attending church, and that’s where the story gets interesting. She said she was really trying to figure all of that stuff out, but wasn’t sure where she was with the whole God thing. I mentioned that I was a follower of Christ, and that I would be praying for her and I would love to speak with her more about that if she was interested. She was very interested, saying that she always liked to hear why people believed what they believe. I knew right then that I had an amazing opportunity to share with her, but didn’t realize how amazing it would really be!”

“I got her phone number and we kept up with each other, but I didn’t get to meet up with her for almost a month later because of school work, real work, and this thing called being insanely busy. I called her on September 26 to see if she wanted to go eat dinner with me. My growth group leader and his wife messaged me and said they wanted to go eat with us to meet her to see if they could help her in any way. I was super happy! We are about to eat dinner when prayed to God for our food. This of course isn’t unusual to the three of us who are regular attenders of church and followers of Christ, and have grown up around that. For my new friend, it was very odd. She couldn’t wrap her mind around people giving thanks for the food that someone else prepared.
“After dinner, as I drove her home she mentioned how much fun she had and then said something that changed the course of the evening. She told me that after eating dinner with all of us, she wanted to be a better person. She didn’t know if that mean by being religious or just hanging out with better influences. I pulled up to her apartment as I told her that I would love to meet up with her another evening and chat with her more about the Gospel, Jesus, and what it means to be a ‘better’ person. She stunned me with her words. She then said, ‘Why don’t you just come in now and talk about it?’ WHOA! I was surprised because here I am, knowing that the gospel is urgent and I’m trying to put it off. She was so curious. I got my evangelism notebook from class that I take my notes in, my Bible, and went inside. I sat on the floor and she sat on the couch. I just begin to speak to her about what it means to be a believer in Christ. She told me that she couldn’t imagine any kind of God wanting her to be apart of his kingdom with all the messed up things she’s done in her life. She starts listing things that I won’t mention, but I stopped her and I said, ‘Let’s read in Acts, a book of the Bible, and read about this man named  Saul.’ We start reading about Saul, and all the horrible crimes against Christians, of him standing there as Steven was stoned, and then we got to chapter 9 to Saul’s conversion. I mentioned to her that the same man who was killing Christians was the same man God wanted to carry his name to the ends of the earth. God uses messed up people, aka everyone, to take his message to the whole world! He used me and he wants to use you.”
“I told her my testimony, then did the 3 circles. She started crying after I was finished speaking. I asked her what was wrong and she said the most profound thing. She said, ‘You keep talking about how much Jesus wants me and all I can keep thinking about is how much I need him.’ I started jumping in my soul for joy. I asked her if there was any reason she could think of that would keep her from believing that truth, and she said no. I asked her if she was ready for Jesus to be Lord over her life, and she said Yes!! I told her I would pray, and asked her if she would pray next, just asking God to forgive her, thanking him for saving her, and just confessing her sins to him. Then I closed us in prayer. The next day, a Saturday, I brought her a Bible and spent a little time with her. Sunday morning, she came to church with me and then we went to Barnes and Noble afterwards. She read her Bible from the time we got there to the time we left. She told me that she had been reading it from the time I gave it to her until she closed her eyes. She became a part of our growth group since. Talk about transformation!”
How I thank God for students like Brooke. Seminary can be a place of great growth but also a place where your spirit dies while your mind expands. There is nothing like sharing one’s faith regularly to keep the classroom connected to the Christ-life!

Student Pastors, This One’s For You

December 17, 2014 Category :Blog| Student Ministry 0

Part of my responsibility (and my joy) at SEBTS involves training student pastors in gospel-driven, biblically centered, mission-rich student ministry (for more on that check out this). As I prepare leaders to serve and lead the next generation I try not to whine about all the annoying student/youth ministry ministries/sites/resources that start with the premise of teenagers-as-third-grade-goofballs (believe me, there are many of these). Instead, I prefer to lift up those ministries who fit our focus on equipping youth and their families to advance the gospel in their communities and around the world.

This is why I have always held up Student Leadership University @slulead as a model of what is right in student ministry. Their 101, 201, 301, and 401 SLU events are second to none. My children–and many of my students–have participated in these. I look forward to speaking at another 101 in January in Orlando. My friends there exemplify a focus that challenges youth to excel rather than to settle for status quo adolescence.

Jay Strack was one of my earliest influences in evangelism. He poured into me when I served in Indiana and had not a clue what the heck I was doing.   Brent Crowe has been a friend for a long time and earned his PhD with me at Southeastern. He just wrote the Foreword to a forthcoming book I wrote with our son Josh called Get Out (releasing in 2015). Ed Newton models biblical, expositional preaching to students beautifully and has become a great friend in recent years.

This is why I want to encourage everyone I know to attend one of several Youth Pastor Summits offered by SLU in 2015. This year you can attend one in Orlando, Houston, Southern Cali, Toronto, and Dallas. I will be at the one in Houston, so I invite all my friends in that region to come.  A list of speakers is here.

1936

Here is the amazing thing about this conference. It’s two days in length including some incredible content in plenary and breakout sessions, and it’s all FREE. All you have to do is get there and get lodging. In a day of overpriced everything in the evangelical world, this is the one conference in a year student pastors and leaders should attend.

Here is the link to register. Don’t miss this. Be encouraged. Be stretched. Be changed.

Be a leader.

Theological Education and Spiritual Awakening

December 13, 2014 Category :Blog 0

As I finish another semester at Southeastern I like to reflect on the impact education can have on a generation of students. By education I don’t mean only the impartation of biblical knowledge; in the training of ministers the fire of God matters as much as the truth of God. I like to remind myself that we fail our students if we only help them to know truth without walking in the power of the Spirit. A specific example from the First Great Awakening reminds me of the potential of young leaders who receive training which instills both orthodox belief and passionate lives.
The key impetus to the revival among Presbyterians came through the Tennent family. The Scotch-Irish family came to America in 1716, eventually settling in Pennsylvania. William Sr. (1673-1746) saw the dead orthodoxy in the churches. He built a log cabin as a theological training center for his sons. He trained Gilbert (1703-64), the oldest, and eventually his three remaining sons along with about fifteen others. This handful of men changed the entire region through the flames of awakening. His curriculum included languages, logic, and theology. Most importantly, he instilled in each student a passion for evangelism, for a devotional life, and for the Word of God. William Sr. had an ability to draw the most promising young men to his “Log College,” as his detractors deemed it. Many of these students became revival leaders themselves.
George Whitefield commented on the school on one of his visits:

The place wherein the young men study now is, in contempt, called The College. It is a log house, about twenty feet long, and near as many broad; and, to me, it seemed to resemble the school of the old prophets. That their habitations were mean, and that they sought not great things for themselves, is plain. From this despised place, seven or eight worthy ministers of Jesus have lately been sent forth; more are almost ready to be sent; and the foundation is now laying for the instruction of many others.

The Log College evolved into the College of New Jersey and subsequently Princeton University; it has been deemed the forerunner of modern seminaries. Many of the college graduates started log colleges of their own. The Log College led to a continual founding of schools as Presbyterians moved westward. In fact, at least sixty-three educational institutions were spawned by its example, and the cumulative years of pastoral ministry from Log College graduates alone totaled 426.

Gilbert emerged as the most capable revival leader. He planted a Presbyterian church at Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1726. At this time he experienced a serious affliction, causing Gilbert to pledge to serve the Lord faithfully, particularly in the cause of evangelism. Like his father, Gilbert believed many church members and several ministers had never been converted. Immediately following the illness, an effusion of the Spirit’s power marked his ministry.

Whitefield called Gilbert and his peers the brightest lights in the colony of Pennsylvania, commenting on Gilbert’s influence: “He convinced me,” said the young evangelist, “that we can preach the Gospel of Christ no further than we have experienced the power of it in our hearts.” Oh that seminarians and pastors today could grasp that technique and knowledge will never replace the hand of God!

The Log College has often inspired me as I teach today. Only a handful of ministers shook a whole region in the cause of revival. As I look across my classes and pray for my students, I often wonder, “Which of these will really get it? Who will display such biblical insight and spiritual passion that they, would shine as a bright light for the gospel in our time? I pray God will raise up such men from among us.

Hang In There: A Story of Perseverance and Salvation

December 12, 2014 Category :Blog 1

Over the years I’ve never apologized for expecting my students to share Christ and report on it. Personal evangelism is caught more than taught. This semester I’ve had some wonderful stories of witnessing and salvation. Then, a former student and a fellow employee here at SEBTS sent me this amazing story of God’s faithfulness in long term witnessing relationships. Be encouraged by this story of Daniel and his friend:

As a student in your evangelism class, I remember well the stories of people who would simply share the gospel once with someone, and that someone would repent of their sins and trust in Christ alone. I also remember thinking, “God, why can’t I ever see this happen?” Why does the Spirit always lead me to speak to hard hearts and hard cases?

Not long after thinking that, I met a man that I now consider a friend and brother in Christ. At the time, he was an incredibly smart drunk. When he was sober, we had very good conversations about politics, world history, and world religions. Whenever I attempted to share the gospel, it was like I was hitting a raw nerve. He wanted to have nothing to do with the gospel, but he allowed me to give him a Bible. Because he was so inquisitive, I gave him my HCSB Apologetics Study Bible. He said that he would take the Bible as long as I promised not to be pushy. So, I just gave it to him and basically shut my mouth. I think I put something like this in my evangelism report… “Shared the gospel. Shut me down. Took a Bible though. Who knows what God might do?”

My friend was an incredibly good cook, so I invited him to cater a Christmas party for my small group. I did this so that he would be around Christians and because he needed the money. He arrived to my house a bit intoxicated, but he still catered the event. I paid him significantly more than he had requested at the time just because I wanted to bless him and show him the love of Christ.

Because of his addiction to alcohol, my friend did really well at his job for a season and then crashed and lost his employment. This has happened several times over the last eight years. He had an incredible amount of loneliness and bitterness in his soul. He was angry at his ex-wife as well as his brother, who did well financially and never helped him. His mother was an alcoholic before she died, and he had not spoken to his father in decades.

All along, my friend would sometimes remind me that I was the only person who cared if he was alive or dead. Eventually, a relationship he had with a live-in girlfriend deteriorated, and he left. One afternoon when I got home from a long day on the road for Southeastern, I noticed that I had a text message from much earlier in the day that I had missed. It was a note from my friend, and it seemed to be a suicide note.

My heart sank, and my mind raced. My wife met me at the door, and I was feverishly calling my friend and getting no answers. For years, I had occasionally texted my friend little notes: “I’m praying for you today.” “I know it may seem impossible, but God really does want you to know and enjoy Him.” “Hope you are having a great day.” Sometimes he would respond; sometimes he would not. I had not heard from my friend in a while, and I thought he was dead. I remember begging God to keep him alive.

Well, it turned out that my friend had not followed through. When I caught up to him, he was angry that I had tried to contact anyone else that I could find who might know of his whereabouts or how to help him. When I explained that, as an ordained minister, that I had an obligation to determine what was going on and to report the incident, he calmed down and began to share that his life was a total wreck – no job, no friends, no family that cared, no girlfriend, no money . . . no reason to live.

He allowed me to treat him to breakfast near the bedroom he was renting the following week. I spent two hours just pouring out my heart and the gospel. He was unmoved and distant. I thought that was the last time I would ever see him. I had given up on being patient. I had given him the full-bore gospel. He had asked me not to years before, but the gospel is what he needed. What was I to do? I erred on the side of telling a man who had just threatened to kill himself about how he could have true life.

Months went by, and I began to vacillate between second guessing my approach on the one hand and just begging God to move on the other. I remember praying for my friend on the way home from work one evening and, suddenly, a text message appeared from him. Because I work at Southeastern, I had asked colleagues to pray for my friend as well.

But, this was a fleeting moment of hope. Things got worse. He lost another job. He couldn’t pay his cell phone bill. I paid his phone bill so that he could make and receive phone calls and possibly get another job. He did. For a while, he was sober, and he was the leading employee in the new business. Then, he returned to alcohol, and the job was lost, and I did not hear from him again until I received a call from his former girlfriend notifying me that he had attempted to take his life. He was nearly successful. The self-inflicted injuries took a week of hospitalization, and there is no medical explanation for why he regained consciousness and called 911.

Along the way, there were the expected legal difficulties – fights, DUIs, etc. But, after failing in his bid to take his life and while facing the legal consequences of his actions, he sent me a text. He wanted to go to church with me. I was so excited! I texted my colleagues at Southeastern and asked them to pray. And, like so many times before, he did not show up for church.

But, he came the next week. I was teaching through Hebrews on the better covenant and the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. He stayed for corporate worship, and he surrendered his life to Christ!

That afternoon, I took him to lunch, and he began to tell me of all the ways God had been trying to get his attention. He had met several other Christians along the way, and “it seemed at times like God was trying to talk to him.” His car had been given to him by a Christian. He met a Christian while in the hospital. He passed a sign owned by a Christian businessman with the exact same message on the sign as what he had read in the Bible that morning. The list of “coincidences” bore the signature of a sovereign and loving Father.

As it turns out, there is a former drug addict who is a bachelor in my Bible study class who has eagerly come alongside of me in the work of encouraging and discipling my friend. I will have the joy of baptizing my friend on January 11, 2015. At some point in the future, he will be ready to tell this story himself, and I’m sure he will do a much better job!

Daniel Palmer

Who have you given up on that needs to hear from you?