“God wants us to stop obsessing about the future and trust that He holds the future. We should put aside the passivity and the perfectionism and the question for perfect fulfillment and get on with our lives. God does not have a specific plan for our lives that He means for us to decipher ahead of time.”
– Kevin DeYoung1
To see more posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.
In part two of the introduction to the series “(Re)Considering Christianity” I discussed my adolescence and my budding interest in topics related to Christian apologetics. I also mentioned that after reading various apologetic literature I had reached a point where I needed to decide what I was to make of Jesus. Was he a mere man or was there something more to him?
The nail in the coffin was the resurrection of Jesus. I could not shake the feeling that the tomb in which Jesus had been buried was empty. And I did not think it was empty because the disciples stole the body or because Jesus had not really died or that the women and the disciples went to the wrong tomb. The only other option was that God had raised Jesus from the grave, vindicating Jesus’ ministry and his redeeming death. And if Jesus was alive then all that was said about him in the Bible must be true. I had no other choice than to rededicate my life to Jesus and spend more time in my King James Bible.
But something happened not long after I made this decision that confirmed to me that I made the right choice. Though the details are fuzzy and my memory of this event has been colored by the intervening years, during the late spring or early summer of my seventeenth year something very weird happened. It was early in the morning, before sunrise, when I started to awake from a dream. I opened my eyes but immediately perceived that I could not move. I could use my peripheral vision to see my desk to the right of me but beyond that I was entirely paralyzed. And then I heard screaming from what sounded like a woman. But it wasn’t far off, perhaps down the street or even in another room of the house. Rather, it seemed like it was right in my ear.
I could feel my heart racing, terrified because I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening. As the screaming continued and I struggled to move, I began to pray and recite the many Bible verses I had memorized since I was a young child. Then the screaming faded away and I was able to move. As I reflected on the experience I came to the conclusion that this must have been a demonic attack, no doubt the consequence of my newfound committment to Jesus. This was confirmation that I was on the right track and that the forces of evil were trying to dissuade me.
A Call to Ministry
I began to spend more and more time with the teenagers of my church and gradually emerged as their leader. Though many of us continued to play basketball together regularly, our focus began to shift to more spiritual things. We began talking about forming a youth group that could meet weekly for fun and fellowship. Since I had become the de facto leader of our group, it was my burden to present the idea to our church’s pastor. But I was reluctant to do so for reasons that still are not entirely clear to me. So I spoke with my dad about the issue and the reason that I and my friends believed our church needed to form a youth group. He urged me to speak to our pastor and told me something that has stuck with me for the past two decades: “If you see a problem that needs to be fixed then you are the one that has been called to fix it.” With that a couple of my friends, my dad, and I met with the pastor and we discussed the formation of a youth group for our church. Within a month, we had our first meeting.
But there was a problem: we had no youth pastor to lead us. While our pastor volunteered his time to help us, we knew that he had too many obligations to commit to us like we needed. A couple of adults, including my dad, volunteered to help oversee the group but few of them were teachers that could devote time and energy to minister to us. We needed structure and clear leadership. So the teenagers decided that we would choose our own leaders. There would be a president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary for the group. These leaders would be elected by the teenagers every year.
Our first election was held and I was elected president. I began to teach regularly in our meetings and still have some of the manuscripts of my talks/sermons which included titles like “What Ever Happened to Hell?” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “What Manner of Man is This?” and more. I soon came to realize that preaching was my passion and that I loved talking about and explaining the Bible to my friends. And after hearing from evangelists who had come through our church for their annual week-long meetings, I felt the call to become an itinerant preacher.
One of the ways in which I tested that calling was participating in street preaching that our church conducted in the nearby town of Oswego on Saturday mornings. Just down the street from local Roman Catholic Church, I and some of the men in our church would go and preach from the Bible to the cars and people passing by. We handed out Gospel tracts, including the comic book style Chick tracts. And periodically we would “lead someone to the Lord,” to use the vernacular.
Street preaching was not without its difficulties. We were cursed at frequently and on at least one occasion one of the men in our group was arrested. But nevertheless, we continued to appear at the corner every Saturday that we could to do what we thought was the right thing to do: warn people of the danger of not believing in Jesus.
At this time I was in my senior year of high school and I was starting to think about what I would do with my life following graduation. I had a deep interest in United States history and had considered becoming a history major at a local SUNY school. But I also felt a calling to become an evangelist and preach the gospel around the country. I had thought about attending school at Peter Ruckman’s Pensacola Bible Institute but needed to visit. Some of my friends were also considering PBI for ministry training. So in January of 2001, my pastor and his wife volunteered to take a few of us to Pensacola, FL to participate in Ruckman’s “Bad Attitude Baptist Blowout” and to visit the night classes he and his staff conducted at PBI.
Me taking a picture of a friend while hanging outside a motel in Pensacola (Jan 2001).
The trip down to Pensacola took a few days since we drove in the pastor’s van. When we got there we saw some of the sites like the aviation museum and spent some time near the beach. Before the Blowout began we sat in on some of Ruckman’s classes at PBI and visited with our own church members who had begun attending PBI recently to see how they liked it. We also visited Ruckman’s bookstore which housed a variety of resources in defense of KJV-Onlyism. My parents had also purchased for me a wide-margin, leatherbound edition of the Scofield Reference Bible which was then signed by Ruckman himself. I picked it up to take it back home while I was there.
Since the Blowout meetings took place during the evening, we had our days free to do whatever we wanted. On one day the pastor’s wife had arranged for us to tour the campus of Pensacola Christian College, a conservative, dispensational TR/KJV-Only school that was not affiliated with Ruckman or PBI. I can remember thinking just how impressive the campus was. They had large cafeterias, a bowling alley, huge dorms, and more. I also found out that one of the majors available was Evangelism. While I didn’t prefer their brand of TR/KJV-Onlyism (who needs the Greek when you have the English?), I decided that PCC was where God wanted me to attend school after graduation. When I returned home I told my parents I wanted to apply to get into PCC. So I did, was accepted, and began planning to make my way back to Pensacola for the 2001 Fall semester.
In the next post I’ll get into my experiences at Pensacola Christian College as well as my own growing understanding of God and of the Bible.
1 Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Moody Publishers, 2009), 63.