By Dr. Donald Whitchard
If I were still serving as a pastor with a congregation, I’d rather have a church full of people like these, with tattoos, body piercings, colored hair, and ragged clothes who had been dopeheads, criminals, hookers, drunks, gay, and abused…
But our God is in heaven. He does whatever He pleases.” – Psalm 115:3 (NKJV)
“Whatever the LORD pleases He does, in heaven and in earth in this sense and in all deep places.”
- Psalm 135:6 (NKJV)
“Indeed, before the day was, I am He, and there is no one else who can deliver out of My hand. I work, and who will reverse it?”
- Isaiah 43:13 (NKJV)
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. I and My Father are one.”
- John 10:28-30 (NKJV)
By the time this article makes it to the respective websites to which I contribute, I am certain that everyone will be sick and tired of being inside for most of the past month or longer, ready to get back to work, and will have tuned out the daily press briefing on the pandemic as well as ignoring the talking heads who seem to think that they know better than doctors, local officials, and the President’s Task Force on how to get rid of this worldwide sickness that has turned everything upside down. It has also brought people to the place where they realize that they need to get in contact with the faith they may have abandoned or neglected, with many searching for comfort in the Scriptures and the prayers of friends and family. This period of uncertainty has also brought out the goodness and nobility of citizens to look out for each other and to perform acts of kindness, courage, and sacrifice in order that we as a nation can get back on our feet, so to speak, once this crisis has passed.
Churches are taking advantage of social media and the internet to spread the message of Jesus Christ to those who had not entered the church for years or for their lifetime. People are now turning to the power and privilege of prayer and the importance of the Holy Scriptures, seeking direction and comfort from something other than their own intuition or sense of self-importance. I do pray that this time of adjustment and change results in the spiritual awakening and revival that not only America desperately needs, but the world as well.
We don’t need a quick shot of patriotism and church attendance that shot up with the aftermath of 9/11, and then disappeared like fog in the morning within a couple of weeks of the tragedy. I was interim pastor of a small church in southeastern Louisiana when the events of 9/11 occurred. The Sunday after the towers fell and the aftermath that followed found the church filled. There was not an empty seat in the entire building. I preached on the uncertainty of life and the need to make peace with God through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. I don’t recall if anyone made that decision, but I do remember telling the people that while I was glad to see them there, the question is whether they would be back in the following weeks, or was this a one-time shot in order to ease their consciences. Sure enough, after two weeks, the church was only half-filled. I pray that with this situation, real spiritual roots will set deep and we see a definite change in people’s lives with their souls at peace with God for the remainder of their days in Christ.
All right, I planned to avoid dwelling on the current situation, and so I shall. As members of the family of God in Jesus Christ, our focus should be on Him and what He is and has always been able to do when He decides to show the world that it doesn’t run on its own merits or strength. He controls the destiny of men, nations, and the universe, and will bring all history and existence to a conclusion that will give Him the glory, honor, and praise He so richly deserves. His prime interest is in seeing that His people from all walks of life are truly saved and secure in Christ and to see that the gospel is presented to all nations. He desires to see lives changed, sins forgiven, inner peace established in people, and true joy amidst the troubles we face while here in this fallen world.
Sometimes he will allow troubles to come upon people so that they have nowhere to look but up towards Him. This happened one night while I was serving as a pastor and Bible teacher at the local rescue mission. The work of the LORD never ceases to amaze and humble me, and when I think on this time, I get somewhat choked up over the fact that He does so much with imperfect vessels. Let’s get to the story. I served at my city’s rescue mission for over three years as a direct impression from the LORD upon me to go serve there. He gave me the undeserved opportunity and responsibility to reach the abused, hungry, homeless, addicted, and desperate people of this city with the Gospel and a genuine caring presence.
If I were still serving as a pastor with a congregation, I’d rather have a church full of people like these, with tattoos, body piercings, colored hair, and ragged clothes who had been dopeheads, criminals, hookers, drunks, gay, and abused, but who had each been radically transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ, the “Friend of Sinners”, than to have a church full of folks who had been there for years but had no spiritual change, maturity, or sense of gratitude towards the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:9-12; Romans 12:1-2). The fire of God falls on the least expected of places. It was a cold night and I had a full chapel of varied personalities, who had to be there as part of the rules set up by the mission.
Many were pretty eager to hear the message I was to present, some were quiet and indifferent, and then there was the guy in the middle row who in no uncertain terms wished to be somewhere else, and his attitude towards me was less than attentive. He decided he would do everything possible to distract me and get me off topic. I don’t really remember what my message was on, but I do know that it was evangelistic in nature. The would-be disrupter laid down, then got up, fidgeted in his chair, talked under his breath, gave me dirty looks, looked around, tried to distract the people around him in a deliberate attempt to get me to quit and leave and allow him to get away from having to face the chapel service and go back to his bunk or go out and smoke.
He was getting on everybody’s nerves, and it seemed that his actions would disrupt and end the service, as he hoped. I did my best to ignore his stunts, but I was fed up and interrupted my message. I told everyone that first, the rules of this mission are that all residents had to attend chapel services when scheduled, no exceptions. Second, I said in no uncertain terms that the reason a lot of them were there because they had made bad decisions in life, or that there had been some unexpected circumstances hit them, but no matter, the point is that they found themselves here and maybe it was God’s way of getting their attention and opening their eyes to the fact that they were heading for disaster if they kept up the way they did.
All throughout my years of reading and studying the Scriptures, nowhere have I ever read in the gospels where the Lord Jesus says to anyone, “Oh, please, please accept Me as your Lord and Personal Savior. Repeat this prayer after me and mean it, and you’ll have everlasting peace and joy, oh, won’t you get up off the ground, or seat, and make your way forward as the psalmists and musicians sing one last verse…?” I don’t think I ever remember a Sunday service where a plea or something to that effect didn’t come from the pastor or the evangelist, that spurred emotions and reactions that were often just temporary and the “convert” was never heard from again once the card had been signed and the eager soul dunked in the baptism tank. What I did read is that the Lord Jesus did invite the weary to come to Him (Matthew 11:28-30), but He also warned the would-be disciples that they had better think long and hard before making the commitment to follow Him (Matthew 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9: 23-26; 14:25-33). If you declare that you’re going to follow Jesus, then understand and accept the fact that HE OWNS YOU! (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Fake converts need not apply (Matthew 7:21-23).
I do remember laying everything on the line, and whatever I had planned to say was overridden by the power of the Holy Spirit. I let both barrels loose and told everyone that if they thought they could get by as they were then and not reach out to God for help and grace, they were heading to hell at the end of their lives, plain and simple. Nobody gets to heaven in their own strength (Romans 3:10-18; Ephesians 2:8-9; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). The only hope they had was to confess that they were sinners in the eyes of God, hopelessly lost and unable to save themselves.
I then explained how Jesus redeemed us from our sins by His death on the cross as the perfect sacrifice, and that His act of mercy and grace on our behalf freed us from sin and its eternal consequences. It’s the only plan God put into place, and there’s no other way than by Jesus Christ can anyone be saved. I then made it clear that I was not there to make them feel good or build up their esteem and that I really didn’t care if they liked me or not. The gospel message came through, that much I can recall. God’s Word did the job of piercing the souls that night, with marvelous results (Hebrews 4:12).
The LORD had them by the scruff of their necks, and the power of conviction fell on the place. The man who had determined to put an end to the service had laid down a few minutes earlier and got quiet. As I instructed the people to talk to God in their own words and ask Him to save them, he sat up and slowly raised his hand, and could see that he was on the verge of tears. “Sir”, he quietly asked, “May I have that, too?” That lost lamb was soon in the embrace of He who is the Great Shepherd, and the angels rejoiced (Luke 15:7). What the devil had tried to thwart, the LORD brought good out of it. Souls were won that night, and I saw how the Lord Jesus worked in the lives of those who believed that they were “too bad” to save, and the three years I served there witnessed a harvest that I had nothing to do with in my own power or intelligence, but was a willing instrument in the plan of redemption put in place before the foundation of the world.
Even now, as we all sit out this problem, think on this. Because we’re inside and quarantined, families are getting to know one another again, children are having the time and attention with their parents that they should get, churches are using new means of presenting the word of God through media, people are calling and checking on one another, especially the precious senior adults in homes and facilities, prayers are being presented that would not have been said had things continued as they were, there is a sense of cooperation and less interest in events and broadcasts that took up time and money that we didn’t have, babies are being spared from the knife of the abortion mill, and we are seeing the better halves of our natures. I presented this earlier, but it is worth mentioning again, if only to remind us that God dwells in the hearts of His people and is in charge of all things, including a virus that seemed to have done more good than harm in terms of making us take a look at ourselves and the directions we were heading.
For those of you who are reading this story and do not have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and are enduring this period of “cabin fever”, I say that now is the time to get that issue settled (2 Corinthians 6:2). He is waiting to hear from you, to save you from hell, and to give you eternal life with Him where there will be no more death, sorrow, sickness, or evil ever again. He is coming back to prepare a new heaven and earth for us and to punish the wicked and the devil for all time (Revelation 19:11-21; 20:11-15; 21:1-7). Sounds good to me, Amen? Take care.
Don was born and raised in the true Cajun Country of Louisiana. He holds a Bachelors Degree in History from Louisiana College, a Masters Degree in Christian Education from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Theology from Andersonville Baptist Seminary in Georgia. Don has served as a pastor, interim pastor, high school teacher, and hospital chaplain over the past thirty years. He currently serves as a volunteer chaplain (2008-present) with St. Francis Hospital and also served as the pastor/teacher from 2013-2016 at the Gospel Rescue Mission, both of which are here in Muskogee. He was called to Meadowbrook in February 0f 2017 and began his ministry in March of that year. He has also served as President of the Muskogee Baptist Association’s Pastors Conference, which is a weekly meeting that presents speakers and ministry ideas and concepts to church leaders in the greater Muskogee area.
Don’s top priority is to see that the good news of Jesus Christ is shared with our lost and hurting world and that the people of God are taught sound doctrine and preparation for our Lord’s soon return.