I started a new sermon series at Northside Church of Christ on the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) at the start of the year. In preparing my thoughts for one of my messages, I started reminiscing about all all the people that have that have influenced the faith I have today. They came from a variety of religious backgrounds. I can’t remember all their names, or even the specifics of what they said, but I will never forgot it what they did. I don’t think any of them even knows the impact they had on me. Individually, none of them could have possibly reached me. But collectively, they turned a discouraged, depressed, hopeless, faithless, drug using, criminal, into the man of faith I am today. So I want to thank those people because I don’t think any of them know.
1. My Mother. Mom was never a reader, so she never really acquired all that much biblical knowledge. In my younger years, she didn’t even attend church assemblies on a regular basis, but had it not been for her, I don’t think I would have ever learned much of anything about God. She certainly wasn’t a Bible thumper, but her believe in God was still important to her. Mom’s first two husbands were not spiritual at all. The second was even bitter towards faith. However, when a local bus ministry was started, mom made sure me and my brother went. That bus ministry is where I started learning many of the stories of the Bible. It didn’t mean that much to me back then, but many lessons at that church I have never forgotten.
2. My maternal grandparents. It was my grandparents who taught me to pray before I went to sleep. They would read me stories and tell me stories from the Bible. They also brought me to their church family and made sure I went to Bible class every time I spend the night with them. I knew they loved God and it was displayed in so many ways over the years.
3. My Uncle Lyle and Aunt Barb. Barb & Lyle were perhaps the most spiritually minded of my mother’s generation. As I grew older, they often tried to reach out to me. I imagine they knew I was getting into drugs at a really young age, but they were sure to pray for me, and they let me know they were praying for me every opportunity they had. After I changed things around, they would remind me what I miracle I was.
4. My cousin Jeanie. My mother took me to a church in the 70’s that was one of the fastest growing churches in the country. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter and for the most part I didn’t get it. Each week I watched as large masses of people would respond to the message of Tommy Barnett. It was one of these times when my cousin, Jeanie (Barb & Lyle’s child), came up to me with tears rolling down her face. She grabbed me by the hand and walked me down front and we knelt down together as we were led in prayer. We’ve never spoke of it, and I don’t know what prompted her actions, but I never forgot it. I would help Jeanie and her husband move from Colorado years later, and they talked about their faith quite a bit during that trip.
5. Bill Wilson. Bill was the children’s minister at that church, and incredibly gifted at teaching young children about Jesus Christ. He was so energetic that he would be drenched with sweat as he spoke each week. One time after hearing him speak, I honestly said the prayer he requested me to say. I would even pray to God at night for a while. It was the seed that fell on hard soil for sure, but I believe he started softening the soil so a seed could grow later.
6. My Aunt Paula. Paula was another one of my mother’s sisters that I looked up to for her faith. I would have never let her know that, but her love for God was quite obvious over the years, and I did take notice.
7. My Neighbor in the trailer park. I don’t remember his name, and I don’t know what prompted him to come over and talk to me. I wasn’t ready, but it really impressed me that the man would leave his comfort zone and venture over to a rebellious teenage boy and speak to him about the love of Jesus. I was 17 at that time. I had just gotten into using the heavier drugs, and I was pretty well stoned most of the time. I was probably even stoned when he came over. He didn’t talk to me about a church, he talked to me about Jesus. I wouldn’t be ready to hear the message for a number of years, but I respected what he did. The soil was still hard, but it was getting softer.
8. Matthis family. When I kept running away from home and getting in trouble with the law, a friend of mine named, Dallas, talked his family into taking me in as a foster child. It didn’t work out. I was much too rebellious. Dallas and I started fighting, and I ended up having to leave, but this family’s love and kindness has been a major influence on my life. It was through the Mathis family that I was exposed to the Church of Christ. They insisted going every Sunday morning and Sunday night. I even had to go to youth activities.
9. The Naval Chaplin. When I was placed in alcohol and drug rehab in the Marines, we would meet in little support groups. A couple times a Navy Chaplain joined the group as a part of his training. One time, I was particularly irritated and was voicing my complaints about the military. He confronted me and basically told me in a very direct way to quit feeling sorry for myself and man-up and start doing my job as I should. He spoke at a later date in front of the whole group about his faith and recited a poem called, Man in the Glass, which was another way of getting me to examine my life. I memorized the poem immediately and I can still recite it today. Soil was fertile now. I started praying to God regularly for direction. I also began reading the Bible and asking questions shortly after this.
10. Eleanor and Brad Bradberry. One Sunday, I decided I wanted to go to a church. However, I was too nervous, and I was in the process of walking away, when for some reason a little elderly woman (82 yrs.) saw me and hurried up to me and asked me to come. She said later, she had never done that before, but out of the blue she felt the need to invite me to the church. Strange is it? They didn’t just invite me. They took me out to eat afterwards and then to their house. From that day on, I spend every Sunday between church services at the Bradberry home. They introduced me to others who taught me the Bible, and I became a Christian Jan. 31, 1987. The Bradberry’s kind of adopted me. When it came time for me to get out of the Marine Corps they helped me to pick a college and even took me to the airport.
None of these people were what you would call evangelist. No evangelist could have possibly reached me at that time. It was ordinary Christians that changed me by their kindness from a person antagonistic towards faith in God, to a person who devotes his life to teaching people about God. I don’t think any of them realized their influence, but I am grateful that they took time to talk to me about God.
You don’t have to know a lot to show another person Christ.