Last Friday night, God called another special man home to heaven. Dr. Roy Johnson was my first pastor. Of course, I was completely unaware of the fact at the time, but his influence was far-reaching. The Lord saved my parents a month before I was born at Messiah Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas, where Dr. Johnson pastored. We were only there for a year, but God used his ministry to give my parents a solid foundation in biblical teaching that gave them a good start in spiritual discernment.
We came back to Messiah years later, during the first of my teenage years, but Dr. Johnson had retired by that time. Our fellowship was renewed when he joined the church my parents were members of a number of years ago. Over the past few years, I’ve been blessed by letters, an occasional phone conversation, and visits. I’ve had opportunities to talk to him about ministry issues, and just life in general. 5 years ago, Dr. Johnson was on my ordination council when I began pastoring Grace Baptist Church. I’m grateful to have been influenced by a man who has served the Lord faithfully for many years.
I was blessed to be able to take part in his funeral service yesterday (September 12). I played the piano for the congregational music, and my wife and I sang “New Grace”. The preacher who gave the message mentioned Hebrews 12, where it is said of Adam, “he being dead yet speaketh.” He asked all the preachers in the audience to stand. There were probably 30 preachers and missionaries in attendance whose lives had been touched by Dr. Johnson! That’s only a small sampling of all the others scattered around the globe. As I thought on this, I was once again reminded of a verse that holds a special place in my heart.
“And now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.”
— I Thessalonians 3:8
One of my greatest memories of my time at Crown College in Powell, Tennessee was the baccalaureate service on the Sunday evening prior to my graduation. It was a great relief: 4 years of schooling were over! I learned much in those years, developed many friendships, and met and married the love of my life. Out of hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours of listening to Bible classes, sermons, etc., the message Clarence Sexton brought that night from I Thessalonians is the one that has stuck with me since. Maybe it was the timing of the service, but I think it was the content of the message that made such an impact. I remember the outline he used (I may have a word off, but I think it’s the same!).
The point is this: As long as we remain faithful to the things we have been taught, those who taught us continue to live. Paul could not remain constantly with the Thessalonians. But while they heeded his instruction to take heed for the coming of the Lord, and continued in faith and charity, he would remain with them through their obedience. I’ve been blessed to have known many faithful preachers of the gospel who have passed on. I think of several college professors who taught me much: Keith Kiser, and his love for the Word of God; Richard Worsham, and his tenacity and desire for God to work through the ministry of the church; Forrest Keener, with a steadfast focus on the great truths of God’s Word; Jim Gaylor, and his tenderness for God’s people; Roy Johnson, with a real pastor’s heart; and others that have been a personal encouragement to me.
If we are to be faithful, how must we stand?
There are many who are wishy-washy in their beliefs. They never want their positions to be nailed down.
When it comes to the great truths of the gospel, we must be grounded in conviction. There are too many issues of great importance that require a solid biblical answer. When dealing with the world, we must take strong positions on the issues of our day: child murder, the desecration of marriage, the culture of death, the glamorization of sin, etc. Even among believers (and professing believers) we must be willing to stand on important things: the centrality of the gospel, the sufficiency of Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, the nature of God and man. We must seek to establish scriptural convictions and drive them a mile deep.
Far too often, those who lay claim to strong convictions are unable to draw the line between those who are active rebels and scorners, and those who are simple fools, blindly following the culture. Jesus was not afraid to castigate the religious hypocrites who made their proselytes two-fold children of hell, but never fail to take note of the mercy he expressed to sinners. Yes, there are times when faithful Christians must be bold in condemnation of wickedness. There are also opportunities to minister by compassion. That does not indicate a need to compromise biblical conviction, but requires an understanding of the fact that the people of God are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We must stand with conviction, but may we do so with great compassion as well.
There are many who begin. Take the parable of the seeds and soils. Many receive the Word with joy, but soon the enthusiasm is choked out by the cares of the world. One who stands fast must have a life marked by patient endurance. Demas started, and seemed to be strong. But he soon forsook the ministry, having loved the world. Judas was one of The Twelve. The other disciples seemed to have trouble believing that he would be the betrayer. Yet he had a part in the crucifixion of our Lord. But consider the testimony of those who endure to the end! Jeremiah was told that his preaching would be resisted. Yet it is Jeremiah who writes of mercies that are new every morning toward the end of his life! Job was assaulted by great trial. But he recognizes God’s hand in it all: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” Joseph endured years of mistreatment before God lifted him up. Moses experienced 80 years of the school of hard knocks before God used him to deliver Israel. Abraham waited 99 years for the son of promise. Yet in each of these, God proved Himself faithful.
You see, the emphasis is not on the perseverance of the man. We are certainly instructed to apprehend. But we must not be focused on the fact of our faith. Rather, our life is tied up in the OBJECT of our faith. We can stand continually only because Christ has gone before us! It is he who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, and is now set down on his throne. Because He lives, we too shall live. What mercy it is that he has not only given himself as an example, but also given us faithful men for us to follow as they followed Christ.
I’m grateful for each of the special people that have influence my life. Some have gone on to glory. Others remain on this earth. May we stand fast in the Lord, that the cloud of witnesses may live on through our faithfulness.