How Christ Came To Me: And How I Ended Up In The Back Of A Cop Car (Part 2)

{This is Part 2 of my testimony. To read Part 1 go here}

I never saw him coming.

I turned around and there he was: short, smug, and red-headed, with an obvious chip on his shoulder (I probably would have one too if I had to patrol daily Spring Break shenanigans). After a couple quick questions it was clear I was not 21 and I ended up in the back of his cop car as he called my mom on the phone.

Underage possession and consumption of alcohol was the charge.

My dad was disappointed. My mom was broken. I had told her I was just spending the night at a church friend’s house. In those days, PC Beach had Spring break court, so I was herded into a large room with other maladjusted teens and young adults and given a blanket judgment by a sitting judge. A few hours of community service at the Boys Club. Not too bad.

I promised my parents I would never drink underage or lie to them again.

As a Dog Returns To His Vomit

But within a month I was back out at the beach. With some of the same church friends. All my passionate pleas and promises to my parents came up empty. As Jesus said, “The flesh profits nothing…” (John 6:63)

I carried on that same trajectory until the summer. I was signed up for a Mission trip to Mexico and was a student leader to a Student Life Camp. It was too late to back out of those. The Guadalajara trip opened my eyes to what an authentic life in Christ looked like, not just the American Cultural Christianity I was immersed in. The Mexican Christians we served with had nothing of earthly value, but because they had Christ they had everything, even joy inexpressible.

A couple weeks later I was at a Student Life Camp at Lee University in Tennessee. At one evening service during corporate worship it happened suddenly. Before I knew what hit me I was a heap on the ground, in a pool of my own snot and tears asking God not to kill me.

I never saw Him coming.

The Puritans used to call it “the gift of holy tears.” If there is such a thing, I had it that night. All I know is that the ugliness of my hypocrisy and sin crashed against the holiness and beauty of the cross of Christ. And it broke me to pieces like a jack hammer to cheap concrete.

I had always felt a little grieved during my Sunday morning hangover episodes. But now I felt gripped.

Finally, I saw with a Spirit born clarity, Christ died for me.

My senior year in high school I was elected Fellowship of Christian Athlete President (probably not the best position for a baby Christian). Jamie, my youth minister, began to give me opportunities to help lead studies and services in the youth group. I devoured every bible study, sermon, devotion, and Christian book I could get my hands on. I was game for every mission trip or service opportunity put in front of me.

As my passion for Christ rose, my passion for football waned. I once moved high schools to get a better shot at a FB scholarship (and to be honest, tick off my old coach). Now, with a few small college offers on the table, I respectfully declined to continue my football career. I was getting burnt out.

As A Woman Returns To Her Dog Sitter

In the process of going to the local community college I met a cute little red-headed girl named Jessica. She wore her passion for Jesus on her sleeve like it was going out of style. A few months into our friendship I was convinced she was to be my wife. It took a few more months to convince her of that.  But after faithfully dog sitting her feisty miniature Schnauzer, Roxanne, she couldn’t resist the charm anymore. ; )

Jessica and I married in the Spring of ’06. We had our first child, Josiah, in May 2008. We had our second child, Gideon, in March 2011. They are two beautiful healthy boys we don’t deserve.

In a short time, God has made life go full circle for me.

I now find myself back with football (coaching), and back at the same high school I once walked the halls as an unmotivated student. Everyday I teach math to young men who are just like I was: Insecure, Confused, putting up a hard facade. Though the behavior may manifest itself differently depending on the case, the root issue is the same: Like me, they need a Savior to take away their sins and the Holy Spirit to empower them put to death their own flesh.

So that is how Christ came to me, and how I ended up in the back of a cop car. And despite my current propensity to wander away, He still comes to me, still grips, and still fulfills the promises I could never keep.

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful-He cannot deny Himself…..” (2 tim 2:13)

Bryan Daniels

How Christ Came To Me: And How I Ended Up In The Back Of A Cop Car (Part 1)

I grew up in church.

By all accounts I was a respectful church kid from a good family. I had a praying mama that ensured my sister and I never missed Sunday morning church. Growing up in church culture I was offered numerous gospel presentations at a very early age. I clearly remember praying a sinner’s prayer after many different services. I remember even more clearly being anguished later on that the prayer never seemed to quite stick for me. Though I was assured of its effectiveness, I had always had some nagging reservations about my eternal state.

By the time I was in middle school I assumed it stuck, and I found other things to anguish over like football, girls, and being “hard.” Those middle school years were some of the roughest. I hit an early growth spurt and by the time I was in seventh grade I was at my current adult height (6’2″). I had sideburns and chest hair in eighth grade. I was a freak (or at least felt like one) and I chose to use my formidable size to intimidate others. Because of my mom, I still went to church but I sat in the back and was a virtual mute, unaffected and too insecure to break out of my social shell.

I was pretty sure everyone hated me, but not as much as I hated myself.

By the time I got into high school, the football gig was working out pretty well for me. I found a nice outlet for my size and rage, and got plenty of praise for it to boot.  Before my ninth grade year I decided the tough guy schtick was wearing thin so I opted for trying the nice guy routine. This was a delightful surprise for many of my former middle school peers.

Things were looking up on the church front too. At least as far as I could tell.

Around this time our church welcomed a new youth pastor to the staff with a wicked sense of humor and hairiest back you have ever seen. Jamie Strange remains to this day for me as an encouraging friend, wise counselor, and just flat-out one of my favorite people in the world. He was a great leader during my formative spiritual years.

In high school I found my niche with football and friends. By the end of my ninth grade year, I got drunk for the first time. This became an almost semi weekly occurrence until the end of my junior year. All the while, because of an excellent “nice church boy” act, I was being propped up as a leader in the youth group.

I remember one time being asked to teach a high school senior bible study. I was a junior in high school at the time. I’m sure some Best Actor Award accolades are due somehow for that.

After a year or so I was able to identify a couple other guys playing church within the youth group. Takes a hypocrite to know a hypocrite. It wasn’t long before we’d congregate at a kegger on Saturday and learn how to hide a hangover on Sunday.

And so the games began.

On Spring Break of my junior year, my church buddies and I took off for the PCB strip. I bought the beer because I knew a good spot that didn’t card, and remember, I did look thirty five years old. With two beers in my pockets and one in hand we walked the strip, treating girls like trash and mere objects of our desires.

“It doesn’t get any better than this” I thought.

But the party ended rather abruptly for me soon after that. In fact, it screeched to a stunning halt when I found myself sitting in the back of a cop car listening to a police officer chatting with my mom on the phone.

To Be Continued…..(Part Two Here)

Bryan Daniels

“Rastafarian Polygamous Women”, and “How Painful Is The Rapture?”

There are some mild surprises associated with maintaining your own blog.

On my WordPress blog stat page it shows how some people find my site (not all). When a person finds my site by typing key words in to a major search engine that information is provided to me. I have seen some interesting search items the past few months. Many have absolutely nothing to do with the article I wrote. Some are amusing, and I wish I could know the story behind those.

Here are three of the more funny/absurd/outrageous search items according to my faltering memory:

“Rastafarian Polygamous Women”

I wrote an article (my very first blog article!) on the Christian rapcore band P.O.D. (Payable On Death). It is titled “A Debt to P.O.D.” In it I happen to state that some of the band’s style and sound seem to be influenced by the “Rastafarian” movement. That is the only time I have ever mentioned anything “Rastafarian” on my blog.

A few weeks after that article I wrote an article on the TLC show “Sister Wives,” that was a biblical critique on their Mormon Polygamous lifestyle. That article titled, “Sister Wives: Neither Nice Nor Biblical” is worth taking a look at if you want to see me get tangled up with an Internet Mormon apologist in the comments section.

I guess the mighty web crawlers paired “Rastafarian” in one article with “Polygamous” in the other, and some dreaded up Jamaican stoner who just converted to Mormonism happened to find my site as a result.

“How Painful Is The Rapture?”

This dude left behind a snazzy suit, perfectly good cup of joe, and an....inhaler?!

This person, presumably a Christian planning on eventually getting “caught up”, found my site right after the Harold Camping countdown craze. Instead of wanting to know how biblical the doctrine of the Rapture was, he/she wanted to know if the Rapture was going to throw his/her back out on the wild ride up.

Well, if the Rapture is anything like that Slingshot ride that used to be out at PC beach I share their concerns. That junk hurt my head.

Instead of a clear answer on the matter, the web gods referred them to my article that provided a brief rapture survival guide for the UNbeliever. They still got some sound advice out of that post, and maybe a chuckle or two if they had a sense of humor.

“Elephant Porn”

This is one of the most recurring search items in my stats. Unlike the others, it is neither funny or mildly amusing, but simply sad and disgusting. If a person does not believe in the depravity, and I mean TOTAL depravity, of mankind I present to you exhibit A.

The article they are referred to is this one: “Porn: The Vile Invisible Elephant In The Church.”

My prayer is that the pervert(s) searching for such an atrocity may actually read the article and have some semblance of conviction or repentance produced in them by the grace of God. Porn is indeed a filthy animal we must not neglect to call out and be honest about within the church. Men, wives and families are dying a slow spiritual death because we are content with keeping this sin a dirty little secret.

So, sometimes perusing my top searches can be an eye-opening heart-piercing experience. From levity to depravity, maintaining a website brings to light both.

My fellow bloggers, any “top searches” to your site you would like to share?

Mature Cessationism, Mature Charismaticism

I just started reading Kevin DeYoung’s excellent book “Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach To Finding God’s Will.” It is highly readable and thought-provoking, and it confirms much about the post I wrote just a week ago. My only regret is that I didn’t have it as a tool during my formative decision-making years when I was a senior in high school or college.

DeYoung gives a brief word about spiritual gifts I would like to highlight here. Do  supernatural gifts (like those in Acts) have any bearing on our decision-making (like visions, dreams, etc.)? What do we make of the cessationist vs charismatic debate regarding spiritual gifts?

In chapter 6, Deyoung brings up a quote from “mature” cessationist Vern Poythress of Westminster Theological Seminary:

All of these supernatural phenomena (fall) under the description of the Westminster Confession of Faith 5:3: “God in His ordinary Providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above or against them, at His pleasure.”…because of its strong commitment to the sovereignty of God and the mystery of His plan, the Confession acknowledges explicitly that there may be operations that are not attached to means in any ordinary way. The ultimate determining factor in every case is “His pleasure.”

DeYoung then shares some thoughts from a “mature” charismatic Donald Gee, a leader within the Assemblies of God denomination:

There are grave problems raised by the habit of giving and receiving personal “messages” of guidance through the gifts of the Spirit…The Bible gives place for such direction but it must be kept in proportion. In most cases [the early Church] made their decisions by the use of what we call “sanctified common sense” and lived quite normal lives. Many of our errors where spiritual gifts are concerned arise when we want to make the extraordinary and exceptional to be made frequent and habitual. Let all who develop excessive desire for “messages” through the gifts take warning from the wreckage of past generations and contemporaries…The Holy Scriptures are a lamp unto our feet and light unto our path.

So a cessationist can say I believe some gifts have ceased yet God sovereignly surprises nonetheless. And a charismatic can say I believe all gifts are operational yet the Bible alone is our authoritative guide.

I guess this portion of the book resonates with me because I grew up as a Southern Baptist, gradually submitted to Reformed Theology in adulthood, and currently attend a charismatic church body. It grieves me when I hear so many caricatures being attributed to both sides of the debate. So I’ll say this:

Cessationists by and large DO NOT deny the workings of the Holy Spirit in this day and age, and are not stuffy spiritually dead Pharisees with a “religious spirit.”

Charismatics by and large DO NOT deny the sufficiency of Scriptures, and are not heretical hyper-emotional simpletons with a “strange fire” in their belly.

I am positive both sides could point the finger at notable extremes in the other camp, but this would prove nothing but mankind’s propensity for straw men fallacies.

I guess I would call for a more generous biblically balanced (IMO) view, one that 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 essentially propagates: Don’t despise the supernatural gift outright, but weigh everything with Scripture and cling to only what is good.

Bryan Daniels

“Not Even A Mumblin’ Word”-The Lamb And the Tattoo Parlor

It is a dingy tattoo parlor situated at the corner of a beach strip mall. The walls are splattered with colorful examples that range from the hokey religious to sadistically perverse. A Playboy and Cosmopolitan sit unassumingly next to one another at the waiting table. The tattoo artist is a twentysomething hipster with her own permanent body art from the top of her head to her toenails (literally). She brags about her feats at a hybrid beer pong disc golf game she concocted in the parking lot during a recent drunken night. Her language is as colorful as the art that adorns her skin.

After the standard musical fare (“The dog days are over…”) a slow haunting number rose out of the parlor’s speakers. It split through the stagnant scene like a lightning bolt to me.

“They led him to Pilate’s bar….not a word, not a word, not a word…”

A patient deliberate banjo played with a whining guitar to these simple sober lyrics:

“He never said a mumblin’ word…”

From the dirty ashes of the studio a blazing white Lamb was rising up. The tattoo artist toned her language down long enough to hum along to the tune as she worked on her customer/my wife.

“They all cried ‘Crucify Him!’ Not a word, not a word, not a word….”

I never heard the song before. It had the feel of an old Negro Spiritual (It was). I wanted to ask the girl if it was Sufjan Stevens (It wasn’t). Turns out, Stevens did help produce it. The band, “Welcome Wagon”, consists of a young midwestern Presbyterian minister and his wife, the recording studio typically their living room.

“We nailed Him to a tree. Not a word, not a word, not a word….”

It probably was a prime conversation starter and evangelistic opportunity. It went wasted. I didn’t say a word. Not even a mumblin’ word.

But I walked away with a new favorite band. And an appreciation of God’s ability to pierce darkness in His own unique way.

Indeed. The Lamb said more in silence than an eternity of words ever could.

Bryan Daniels

Happy “Dad Life” My Fellow Freestylin’ Fathers

Pure lyrical genius right there: “Potted plant, Crepe Myrtle, LITTLE ORNAMENTAL TURTLE!!!”

I empathize with the hilarious sentiments of this video. The “Dad Life” brings many joys and challenges with it. Many smiles too. One of the perks of fatherhood is waking up to this scene:

Woke up to this little boy clapping and yelling "Surprise!"

Happy Father’s Day to all those brave souls living the sold out “Dad Life.” May the Heavenly Father be glorified by our strong patient guidance in the midst of stained couches, burnt hamburgers, and awkward attempts to be cool to our children!

Bryan Daniels

God’s Will For Your Life Is To Not Know God’s Will For Your Life (Kinda)

God’s sovereign will for our lives can be a mysterious subject.

Especially when it comes to the world shattering decisions of whom to marry, where to go to school, the call to ministry, or taking on a mortgage. On a personal level, there was no written decree or supernatural vision where God told me to marry my beautiful wife Jessica or go to school at Florida State University (even though my 12 month has learned to tomahawk chop before he can walk).

You Can’t Know God’s Will

Admittedly, the specifics seem to be a bit ambiguous concerning God’s will. I believe in many cases He meant for it to be that way (Deut. 29:29). As the book of Revelation reveals, God knows the beginning from the end, and He is under no obligation to embellish the details to us (even though He graciously has in many cases!).

We may never know this side of eternity all the purposes of disease, wars, or stillborn babies. This is called the decretive, or hidden, will of God.

But there is no life of faith when we are aware of every nook and cranny that lies before us. Faith is what pleases God (Hebrews 11:6) not our fallen educated guesses. What God decrees will ultimately come to pass. And much of what He decrees is a secret to us. We don’t know where or with whom we will be in 10 years. We don’t even know what joys or tragedies may befall us in the next 10 minutes. This may be so that we operate in trust for Him and not our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6).

As Oswald Chambers said, “Faith doesn’t know where it is being led, but it loves and trusts the One leading.”

But there is an aspect to God’s will that is no secret. For example, look at Ephesians 5:17. It states:

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lords will is.

I do not think that this verse and others like it are talking about God’s hidden sovereign will, because there is too much we cannot know regarding it. Ephesians 5:17, in my opinion, is talking about what theologians call God’s “preceptive” will (His will revealed through Scripture). God’s sovereign will is what He mysteriously and providentially brings to pass, and within that God’s preceptive will is what He specifically reveals to us as biblical principle for living our daily lives in Him.

For example, revival would be a sovereign act of God on a community. Yet we are commanded to pray for it (Matthew 9:38, 2 Chronicles 7:14). Don’t ever stop praying. Because in a mysterious way God is using our prayers to work His sovereign plan. He sees, hears, and knows our prayers and He has factored them into His movement and mission for the world. That doesn’t mean we pray “rightly” and He will answer in the positive every time, but we must realize prayer isn’t about getting something, but really about getting to know Him. Our prayer may be the little lever that turns the great wheel of God’s plan for a nation. That is an indescribable privilege He has granted us!

So we may not know God’s will in the grand eternal or even long-term sense, but we can know God’s will for us right now in this moment. Let us break down Ephesians 5:17 in context to the rest of the chapter concerning God’s guidance of us.

You Can Know God’s Will

Ephesians 5:1 We are to imitate God since we are His children. This entails walking in love (v.2), avoiding sexual immorality (v. 4), avoiding crude talk (v. 5), not being deceived by or partnering with evil (v.6-7), seeking discernment as to what pleases God (v. 10), shedding the gospel light of God’s truth in darkness (v.13), being good stewards of our time (v. 16).

After that, Paul culminates with “Therefore(meaning given what I just told you in verses 1-16), don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” In essence Paul is saying this: “If  you understand what I’ve just told you up until now, then you will not be foolish and you will know God’s will for you.”  Now we could spend days unpacking what each of those verses mean, but we can see that we are given general guidelines in Scripture in order to know God’s will. If you saturate your head and heart with God’s Word/Will then you will know God’s plan for your life and will be able to discern (v. 10) what is pleasing to Him in any given moment.

Romans 12:2 is similar, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what the will of God is, the good acceptable perfect will of God.”

How do we know God’s perfect will for us? According to that verse we can know His will by repenting of worldliness and renewing our mind. How do we renew our mind? By praying over, meditating on, and studying Scripture. “Testing” in that verse means putting into actual practice what God has revealed to us in His word. What God has revealed to you, you learn to flesh out.

The Proverbs are called “Wisdom” Literature. The word “wisdom” means this: The skill of Godly living. Wisdom is a skill to be practiced, nurtured and learned over a lifetime. Even wisdom is something we are commanded to ask for in prayer(James 1:5). God will not withhold good gifts from His own children, especially good spiritual gifts! (Luke 11)

So before we make any big decisions involving us or others we need to seek God’s will through His word. God’s word is more than sufficient as the light unto our path and lamp unto our feet (Ps 119). For example, we can take principles from 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23-24 and ask ourselves these five big questions while seeking God’s perfect will for the major world shattering decisions in life:

The Big Five For God’s Will

1. Is what I’m choosing Scriptural?

2. Will this show I am a slave to Christ and not a slave to this world?

3. Is it truly beneficial to me in the eternal sense?

4. Will it edify my Spirit?

5. Am I seeking the good of others?

If you can say “Yes” to all these and have saturated the decision in prayer I personally do not believe you will somehow miss “God’s will” for your life when making tough choices. That doesn’t mean you will get what you thought you would, but rather you will get what God knows you need in order to fulfill your destiny (Romans 8:29, to be just like Christ!)

So in a sense you cannot know God’s will for you. And in a sense, you can. Faith like a child is what links us up to the Father’s loving ultimate will for us. He has given us more than enough through His indwelling Holy Spirit and illuminated Word to live a life pleasing to Him…and in His will (2Timothy 3:16).

Bryan Daniels

Why Johnny Can’t Preach-The Media Have Shaped the Messengers

In “Why Johnny Can’t Preach” T. David Gordon observes the root of the absence of solid biblical preaching in evangelical pulpits today. As a one time pastor and professor of media ecology Gordon has some thought-provoking conclusions.

One of Gordon’s main points is this:

“Johnny” (used in a generic sense) lives in a heavily image driven culture. This wasn’t always the case. Sixty years ago America was a text driven culture. Newspapers, books, and classical language studies were the order of that day. Now Television, film, games, and IPhones rule the cultural landscape. Johnny’s (and our) ability to read and break down texts, especially ancient ones/Scripture, has severely atrophied as fast paced infotainment has risen in popularity.

Unlike past generations who were legitimately illiterate, we are a people who are a-literate. Meaning we are able to read but we choose not to. Sure, we read emails and “Twilight” novels, but we neglect the classics and the tough texts where real significance and satisfaction are found (Tolstoy, Shakespeare, etc.).

Johnny can’t read for linguistic and cultural nuances anymore. That is sad, because it is Johnny’s foremost responsibility to rightly preach a text…an inspired one at that. (2 Tim 3:16-4:2)

Instead of reading, television has now become the dominant cultural medium.

As a result, the lost art of writing careful composition has also been sacrificed at the altar of cultural expedience. Gordon suggests (I agree) that the practice of voracious reading and writing can only aid a preacher in his preaching. I think the history of the church can attest to this. Some of the greatest pastors and theologians have left behind libraries of personal literary work.

Reading and writing are not the only sensibilities in decline.

In this modern image-driven age, we are assaulted by a consistent torrent of meaningless images and information. The overload numbs our sensibilities to discern the significant from the insignificant.  From pop music, Jersey Shore, Facebook or Tosh.O, we are a culture dominated by the trite and irreverent. We are immersed in it like a fish in the sea. So not only can “Johnny” no longer read or write well, he can no longer see or feel what is truly weighty or significant in the gospel.

Gordon posits that this is one of the reasons expository sermons have become sparse in contemporary pulpits. Some Preacher’s only wish to gather a topical vignette that confirms whatever presuppositions they bring to the text. A sermon that consists of moralism, how-tos or a cultural war call is all too typical nowadays. But if preachers were to read Scripture carefully, they would see the Bible as a book on Christology, not these tertiary issues.

Gordon makes the point numerous times that the primary message emanating from every pulpit should be this: The fitness of the person and work of Jesus Christ to be a Savior to sinners. From Genesis to Revelation this is the ultimate thread and theme of Scripture.

The book(let) is only around 100 reading pages and does a succinct job of pinpointing many areas of cultural concern we may overlook. Though pastors are the subject it is worth a read for every lay leader, Sunday Teacher, or church attendee. In the last chapter Gordon gives hope to the collective “Johnny’s” by showing ways to cultivate latent reading, writing, and preaching talents.

I pray the Holy Spirit raises up such men to do the hard work of uplifting Christ in the pulpit. I pray these men will do the necessary preparatory work to preach this Christ well, for the good of lost man and to the glory of God.

Bryan Daniels

Because He is Good…{Matt Chandler}

Awesome all around production in this vid. More importantly, it uplifts an awesome God and His message to a broken world.

This is an encouraging message to me. Sometimes we don’t need 45 minutes and a large platform to reach people.  It shows a three minute presentation can suffice to bring about repentance and faith. It shows that, through the Spirit of God, these massive gospel truths can even be made digestible to souls of small children.

Thank God, we can never get past or through the simple gospel. The basics of our faith are an ocean of eternal depth.

Bryan Daniels

‘Tis the VBS season! (No Sinner’s Prayer Required)

Paul Washer has declared a war on the sinner’s prayer. He even goes so far as to call it the “golden calf” within some Baptist circles (Washer is Baptist mind you). I agree with much of this shocking sentiment. Hear me out: Though I believe the biblical reasons are manifold, I also have personal reasons for my particular distaste. I don’t believe I am alone.

Here is the way the sinner’s prayer is presented in many church (Vacation Bible School) contexts:

Towards the end of the week, the children (K-5)are herded into a big room where a pastor is waiting for them. They are greeted, seated, and told to have “every head bowed and every eye closed.” There the pastor gives a very brief Roman Road-ish gospel presentation and prompts the children to a decision in this way:

“Now you don’t want to spend an eternity  in hell apart from Jesus do you? (only the spawn of Satan would really want this) Well, of course you don’t. All you have to do is repeat this little prayer after me and you will be saved. Say this:”

Usually the recitation involves a brief acknowledgment of sin, faith, the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After the pastor is finished he asks everyone who repeated the prayer to raise a hand up or stand up or look up or give a thumbs up. To those who do he gives assurance of their salvation and welcomes them into the family of God forevermore.

In third grade, this was almost verbatim the way I was presented the gospel during VBS. And I prayed that little prayer. And I prayed it again the next year. And the next. And the year after that.

Between the third and eleventh grade I probably recited the “Sinner’s Prayer” over 100 times but to no avail.

I was a bit confused (I know many others who have experienced this confusion).

The summer before my senior year I still had no assurance that little magic prayer did the right trick for me even though numerous pastors assured me it did. Around that time, during a summer camp I went to as a student leader, it pleased God to do a sovereign work in me. There, during worship, the utter ugliness of my sin and beauty of God’s grace crashed like a train wreck in my soul to produce in me true conversion. God granted me what the puritans used to call “the gift of holy tears.” I finally knew I was changed. I felt it. I was assured of it.

I don’t remember reciting any specific prayer during the whole ordeal other than maybe, “God don’t kill me.”

I have never been the same since that decisive moment. His cross and relentless grace haunts me on a daily basis, in my dreams and thoughts. I found out later the Bible confirmed what I experienced. It was true repentance.

I began to learn a staple in cultural Christianity had little or no biblical basis. Jesus never said, “The time is fulfilled the kingdom of God is at hand, so everybody bow your head and pray this prayer with me….”

But unfortunately, the “sinner’s prayer” remains as a simple effective church strategy to “win souls.” I believe this reveals our true golden calf in many evangelical churches: Pragmatism. If it works (or seems to work) it must be of God. If it gets results/decision cards it must be the Holy Spirit. So much of our church traditions are not Bible-driven but simply results-driven.

But instead of parrots and decision cards we better start looking for heaven born Fruit (Galatians 5). We need only the Holy Spirit to be saved not man-produced incantations (John 3).

Some call it easy believism. Some call decisional regeneration. Here is the really subversive thing about it: Later in life when this person feels real conviction over their sin and lost state they will go to a Christian preacher/counselor/friend about their troubled soul. And instead of giving the lost one a biblical assurance of faith (through 1 John) the counselor will ask “Did you ever ask Jesus to come in to your heart? Did you ever pray that prayer?” To which the hell raising lost sap will say: “Yes, in VBS a long time ago…” And the misguided Christian/pastor will exclaim “Well, then you’re saved!”

And another false convert heads to hell with a false comfort clinging to a false gospel understanding. Real repentance and faith must produce a life of real works and fruit (The whole book of James!). As the Reformers used to say, “We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.”

So let’s pray for true conversions this VBS season. Let’s pray for a genuine understanding of repentance, faith, and the discipleship road with Christ. Even in six-year olds. Six year olds who grow to be sixteen year olds who have matured into deeper revelations of faith and repentance and grace.

I’ve heard it said VBS is the greatest tool of evangelism in the life of the church. I believe that is and can continue to be true. That is, only if we are patient enough to not sacrifice our children on the altar of religious pragmatism.

Keep sowing the gospel seed to those kids my VBS peeps, God is faithful to produce a harvest! No psychological techniques or arm twisting needed. : )

Bryan Daniels

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