As a thirteen year-old sitting in a Sunday evening worship service in 1963 in south Texas, I heard the gospel message for the first time. I was attending with my cousin so that he could sit with a girl and that night I ran down the aisle where the pastor prayed with me and I was baptized the following Sunday evening. At age 62, I can still see the mural of the river Jordan above the baptistery and can still smell the chlorine in the water.
As the pastor was helping me out of the baptistery, he said something that would ring in my ears many years later…”Charles, you may wander from God someday, but He will never leave you.” I then was greeted by a kind gentleman who handed me a towel but not a Bible. I wouldn’t have known how to use it if they would have given one to me. That began my twelve year journey in the desert. I later received my first Bible in 1967 as a high school graduation gift from my church.
Throughout my college years and the early years of coaching and teaching in public schools, God protected me from myself in the midst of some bad decisions and a self-centered heart. On one occasion, I dug out my Bible, seeking answers during college to only be more confused when I read in one of the Chronicles and it didn’t speak clearly to me.
On another occasion, I actually got up one Sunday morning to go to a local church I had seen each week and desired to attend. However, I never got out of my ‘62 Chevy as I sat frozen in fear in the parking lot until the last person went in and they closed the door. I remember driving home with a sick heart, angry that I had not had enough courage to go in because my fear was greater than my desire to enter.
Now fast forward to 1976 and I am married with a baby girl and coaching varsity basketball in a public high school and a scoreboard had become my god. One thing is for certain; anything that we try to make our god is no substitute for the one true God, especially if the thing you’ve made your god is a scoreboard.
One night after a game where my god had let me down, the Lord rescued me on the long bus trip home. I recalled one of the few Bible stories I had heard as child about the Shepherd leaving the flock of 99 sheep in order to go after the one that had wandered off. It was then that I recalled the old preacher’s words from twelve years before, “Charles, you may wander from God someday but He will never leave you.”
From that day forward, my journey began after I bought a Bible, and Janice and I started going to church there in South Texas. We went to worship services only for the first year and then began going to Sunday morning Bible study the second year after the teacher promised not to call on me to read aloud or to pray. Having not grown up in the church for most of my life those two years were very rich, but I still didn’t have anyone to walk along side me and guide me on my newfound journey.
It was in 1977 that I received a call from a small private Christian university in Central Texas inviting me to interview for the position of head baseball coach. During the interview, the president’s first inquiry to me was, “Coach, tell me where Jesus Christ is in your life today.” Wow! That set the tone for me as I began my twelve-year career on that campus. I knew what the priority of the administration of our university was. I desired to grow in my relationship with Christ, but didn’t really know how that was going to occur. God knew and I’m thankful for the path He laid before me once we were officially offered the baseball position, moved to Bell County and was in search of a church home.
On the first Sunday there, we worshipped at the first of five churches we intended to visit. When the pianist hit the first note of the invitation hymn, we moved out of the pew into the aisle and headed to the pastor to make that our church home for the next 34 years…we still worship and serve there today.
While being welcomed by members after the service, a gentleman shook my hand, introduced himself to me and then invited me to have lunch with him that week. I accepted his invitation, and later that week we were giving our order to the waitress of the local eating establishment. Once she walked away, he looked at me and said something that has profoundly and eternally impacted my life for the next third of a century. He smiled and said, “I’m a homebuilder by trade and a man-builder by call, and I would like to pass on to you what was passed on to me years ago.”
He then quoted 2 Tim. 2:2 to me where Paul said, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” From that day until now that scriptural DNA has been spiritually infused into the depths of my heart and soul!
Of course, it’s been imperfectly lived out through the many chapters in my life so far but nonetheless it has been deeply rooted in all I have done as baseball coach, adjunct professor, dean of students, vice-president, minister in my local church and now as I serve with International Evangelism Association.
One of the basic cornerstones of “life-to-life ministry” or “1-on-1 disciple-making” is the principle of observation. William, my homebuilding disciple-maker, provided me with lots of opportunities to observe ministry as I accompanied him to the hospital, to nursing homes and on evangelistic visits with people in his world or folks who had recently visited our church. He would invite me to accompany him on such endeavors in order to be his silent prayer partner. He never involved me in the visit until he was certain that I was comfortable and ready.
After each visit as we traveled home, he would affirm me and thank me for my prayer support. I learned how to make hospital, nursing home, prison/jail, bereavement and evangelistic visits simply by “being with” William as he ministered. When I went on staff full-time at my home church years later, the Lord had prepared me with years of practical lab experience in ministering in the name and power of God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit…I was truly blessed to have those personal, in the field experiences with a mature believer.
Another very important aspect of my journey with William was what happened to and from our ministry excursions. We would talk in his truck and I’d ask questions. He would patiently answer my questions and never make me feel like my inquiries weren’t of merit but would give Biblical answers and refrain from simply giving me his opinion.
This occurred also when we would meet late at night after the children were in bed and we would sit at his kitchen table with a pot of coffee and our Bibles open. I learned how to use my Bible as it’s own commentary, how to dig deeper and to check out the perimeters of verses and passages, how to cross reference and ask pertinent questions about the relevancy of scripture. Those evenings at the kitchen table were rich and invaluable in my spiritual development.
I could go on and on but I’ll sum it all up with these last few paragraphs. Over these last 34 years of my walk with the Lord, I have been privileged to have been blessed by many godly men and women at my church, university and in my family. I’ve received many wonderful opportunities to be trained and equipped through incredible seminars, conferences, classes and ministry endeavors. I’ve walked with some spiritual giants that I call friends and co-laborers…but in my journey to date, other than my relationship with the Lord and my wife and daughter and her family, none have been more influential and empowering than the walk with my “spiritual dad,” William Thompson, the homebuilding disciple-maker.
As I close, I am reminded once again of my first meeting with William in the restaurant over three decades ago where he smiled and said, “I’d like to entrust to you what was entrusted to me so that you can do the same.” I had no earthly idea what that would mean in my life and I’m still on the journey discovering what that means and where he’s taking me now that I’m in the fourth quarter of my life with a strong desire to finish strong and be generous in sharing what so generously had been shared with me.
The following is a song that one of my dear friends wrote years ago after he heard me share my testimony with a group of deacons in North Texas at a retreat we were leading called “Deacons are Disciples Too.” The words pretty much sums it all up for this ol’ coach.
We sat down at the table in the kitchen
He said a prayer and then opened up the Book
He could tell by my expression I was troubled
Then he smiled and said, ‘Let’s take a look.’
He took time to answer every question
Sometimes he said, ‘I don’t know’
He spoke of God’s love and forgiveness
And how he’d been changed long ago
It was there at that table I was nourished
At that table I was blessed and I was fed
There I learned the gospel’s truth and it’s riches
And all Jesus did and said
My life was changed at that table
By a friend who loved his Lord enough to share
He first taught me to crawl, then helped me to stand tall
Praise the Lord for that kitchen table and the time that we spent there
Now there’s a table in my house
Nowadays some join me there
Is there a table in your house?
What besides a meal do you share there?
Is there a table in your house?
A life can be changed there!
Blessings and love to you all as we continue our journey to equip the saints to become true disciples of Jesus Christ who grow in His grace and power and become healthy reproducing believers!
Special note: William Thompson was killed in a one-car accident over 20 years ago, and the fruit of his life continues on in all the men he invested his life in as they invest their lives in other faithful men also. I believe it was Avery Willis, author of MasterLife, who asked the question, “Which is more fruitful, to pick a bushel of apples daily or to plant apple trees?” Which is more fruitful…to be a soul winner or to train soul winners who will train soul winners?”
By Charlie Robinson, Minister at Large, International Evangelism Association
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