Richard Exley relates a story in his book, Deliver Me. He grew up in a very similar church as to what this one is now. In fact, the church that he is from, in years past, held the same convictions that we still hold today. In the past, you could not tell a difference between how they looked and worshiped and how we looked and worshiped. Sad to say, they have drifted and if we continue to drift in that same direction given 10 years, maybe a little sooner or a little longer, our movement will endure the same kinds of things.
He relates that one Saturday afternoon, in Texas City, Texas, he had to face a series of choices. He was a member of the eighth-grade basketball team, and they were playing in an out-of-town tournament. After winning the first two games, they had a Saturday afternoon open before playing for the tournament championship that evening. Coach Johnson decided that a movie was the best way to keep the boys out of trouble until game time. The team greeted the announcement with loud cheers, but he did not join in. For him it was a moment of truth. Would he remain true to his spiritual convictions or would he give in to peer pressure?
To fully appreciate his situation, one must realize that his church of his youth was very staunchly conservative. Liquor and cigarettes were deadly sins, but so was dancing and going to movies. To his way of thinking, stepping inside a movie theater was tantamount to denying Christ.
All the way across town to the theater, he was in mortal agony. Attending the movie with the team was not an option, but he dreaded the ridicule and rejection that he was sure to have to endure that would follow his stand. At last the bus turned into the parking lot and came to a stop. Around Richard, the team was talking noisily and pushing forward to the front of the bus.
He hung back hoping for a chance to talk to Coach Johnson privately, but it was not to be. Ordering everyone back to their seats, Coach begin to give some last minute instructions. Finally he asked if anyone had any questions. Reluctantly, Richard raised his hand. Nodding in his direction, Coach said, "What is it, Exely?"
Now every eye was on him and he swallowed hard past the fear that had formed a fist-sized lump in my throat. In a voice that was hardly more than a whisper, he said, "Coach, it is against my religion to go to movies?"
"What did you say?" he demanded. "Speak up so I can hear you."
Clearing his throat, he blurted out, "I’m not going to any movie. It’s against my religion."
Instantly the bus erupted with excited chatter as his teammates bombarded him with questions and comments: "You’ve got to be kidding me." "What kind of church do you go to anyway?" "What’s wrong with going to a movie?"
He said the embarrassment painted his face bright red, but he didn’t back down. Finally the coach ordered the rest of the team off the bus. When they were gone, he made his way back to seat in front of where Richard was sitting. Putting his arm on the back of the seat he looked at Richard for a long time without speaking.
"Exley," he asked at last, "if I let you stay on the bus, will you give me your word that you won’t set one foot off of it?"
Without a moment’s hesitation, he said, "Yes, sir!"
"We’re going to be gone two hours," he said. "That’s a long time with nothing to do."
"I’ll be fine, sir," I told him. "You can trust me."
He gave me on final look before making his way down the aisle and stepping outside where the rest of the team waited impatiently. He watched until they turned the corner and disappeared from sight, then he settled down to await their return.
How, you may be wondering, could a timid fourteen-year-old boy remain true to his convictions, while the man he became, a minister and a writer, caved in at a rental car counter? (Earlier in the book, he relates how that he had been dishonest about the mileage and gas when he turned in the car.) What did that teenage boy have that his middle-aged counterpart lacked?
The idealism of youth played a part to be sure, but the difference goes deeper than that. As a young man, I had no confidence in myself. I knew that my only hope was in Jesus. If I ever hoped to overcome temptation and live a victorious life I knew that I would have to wholly depend on Him. That afternoon, I prayed desperately for the courage to do what was right. Without His help I knew I would succumb to peer pressure. I had no doubt I would be a goner if I ever opened my life to the smallest compromise. Consequently, I studiously avoided the very appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22). As a middle-aged man I was more confident of my own powers. I was a man of the world. I had been around. I could take care of myself, or so I thought.
As a mid-life male I must return to the faith of my childhood. Like that fourteen-year-old boy I must take a stand against all evil. It is my only hope. I dare not open my heart to the smallest temptation, for once the door is open it is almost impossible to close. And I must not stand in my own strength, or I will surely fail. Like a child I must put my whole trust in Jesus, for only He knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation.
(Source: Deliver Me, pp. 166-168. From a sermon by Philip Harrelson, "The Veil of Vashti" 1/31/2009)
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