Archive: Laymen, You Can Change the World

Condensed from an address by Howard Ball
United Methodist Layman, San Bernardino, California
Director, Lay Training, Campus Crusade for Christ

First Christ must change us. Then we can become God’s change-agents in a lost world.

Jesus said, “All power in heaven and earth is given unto me. Go ye therefore!” But we haven’t gone. We haven’t felt the need for His power. And because we haven’t been doing something that requires His power, we have sat back and looked helplessly at alien forces shaping world history.

The late Konrad Adenauer said before his death, “If Jesus Christ is not alive, I see no hope on the horizon for mankind.”

Do you believe that? Then let’s get out and attempt something that requires the power of God.

It was in 1960 that someone first presented to me the fact that Jesus is God. I had never heard that. I had started out as an Episcopalian in Waukegan, Illinois. I moved up to northern Michigan. There weren’t any Episcopal churches around, so we started attending The Methodist Church. I remember sitting on the hillside of the camp at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, with the Epworth League. I heard people talk about God. And I remember trying to comprehend what God could be like. I wondered. I imagined. But I did not understand.

I became married at a very young age. Then we had a child and everything was going great. Life was just a challenge. I was making more money than I thought I would ever make.

Then someone very close to me died. I jerked my head up out of the sand and I looked around. And I said, “Wait just one minute! What in the world is this whole show about? This person that I loved was alive yesterday – now dead. Where did she go? What does it all mean?”

I went to talk with people I thought had the answers. But I didn’t understand. I looked at my own life and I had a sadness apart from the loss of this loved one. I realized that my birth, my life had no real meaning. So I concluded, at the ripe old age of 21, that if there is a God, He is so busy with the big things that He wouldn’t have time for people like me. I concluded that the life I knew did not include the finding of God. So, I wrote Him off as unknowable. I chose the buck as my god.

For nine more years I chased that god. I caught him occasionally. I became a member of the Official Board of a Methodist church. I taught our college department in Sunday school. I chaired our annual fund drives. But I did not know God. No one, in all my 30 years of life, ever told me that God loved me – that Jesus is God – that His life, His death, His resurrection were relevant to my life.

If a man can grow up inside The Methodist Church and have this experience, do you wonder why we are in a crisis?

One day someone invited my wife to a Bible study. She thought of every excuse to get out of it. But finally my wife went to that Bible study. And was stirred! She asked me to go, and I did everything I could not to. Monday night, the night of the Bible study, was my night out with my buddies. But my wife is persuasive, and so I finally went. I sat down at the meeting, leaned back in my chair, and thought, “O.K., you got me here, now amuse me.”

I was amazed. The person who taught that class did something that I had not seen done. That person said, “Don’t take my word for anything unless you find it substantiated in context in the Bible.”

Then I heard that person read these words from John, the first chapter … “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”

I sat there dumfounded. I did not know that was in the Bible! When I taught the Sunday school class, if I used the Bible at all, I used the book of Proverbs. (It had so many catchy sayings.) The rest of the Bible might as well have been original Greek!

That night I heard that I actually could participate in Christ’s life – if I was willing to exchange my will for His. I rejected this because it ran cross-grain to every philosophy I had based my life upon.

I am sharing this with you because this is the disease – this is the problem – that is rampant. I was no stranger to the church. I was as involved as one could be. But I didn’t know anything about God. My confidence, like John Wesley before Aldersgate, lay in what I was doing for God. I had not understood what God had done for me.

I almost divorced my wife. I almost left my family because I didn’t find within me the sort of man I was expected to be. Day after day I was challenged to love people as they were. To be no respecter of persons. I wanted to be that kind of man. But I didn’t have power to be that kind of man. And nobody came to me and told me how that power is available from God.

But God’s Word is quick and powerful. It is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Three weeks later, at my office desk, God’s Spirit used that Word which I had rejected. God’s Spirit brought it back to my mind. I sat there, trying to figure it out.

I had never done business with anybody motivated by love. That is why the Gospel didn’t make sense to me. I began to get a glimmer – maybe there is a motivation behind this that is different than what I have encountered before. And I began to look from that perspective. What if this were love … the kind of love I had always hoped existed but never believed did? What if this was of God?

And I began to look more and more closely to see what it would be like if something could be purely love – love that gave without trying to get selfishly.

Finally I began to comprehend the love of God. That is what I said “yes ” to. You never would have persuaded me with theology. You could have called me everything under the sun, but you would never have convicted me of my sin by that method. I was convicted of my need of God when I saw the difference between my nature and the love of God.

Laymen need to know God’s love. They can’t know it from an institute or an organization. But they can know it when you care enough. When you sit down and share it with them.

Our pastor visited our home when he heard that something had happened in my life and hers. Afterward, my wife told me what our pastor said.

“Barb,” I said, “you’ve got to be mistaken! You must have misunderstood.”

So I went to his office. I made an appointment with him because I couldn’t believe it was true that my pastor, this shepherd of the flock, had really ridiculed the death of Christ on the cross. That he had called it “slaughter-house religion.” That he had said it had no value. That he had laughed at my conversion. That he had told my wife, “Howard is too smart to fall for that.”

I visited with my pastor. And with a few tears I made the decision that I would have to resign from The Methodist Church. I did so because I was scared for my kids, my daughter and my son. I didn’t want to leave. I had a lot of friends. But I could not stay. I didn’t want that man to be the shepherd of my children’s spiritual welfare.

So I left The Methodist Church. I went to a place where the Scripture was preached. I just wanted to know about Christ. I wanted to know about this Man who was changing me into the kind of man that I always wanted to be. I wanted to know about this Person who was able to change our marriage. I wanted my kids to know that there was a better kind of life, so they will not have to go through the ricky deal that we went through. That’s why I left The Methodist Church.

But two years later, after I had a chance to grow and mature a little bit, I began to see the needs of other people who had remained Methodists. And God’s Spirit made me realize that I had turned my back on many people without Christ, just like I had been.

So we did something very difficult. With a lot of prayer, we went back and rejoined the very same church from which we had resigned. We told the pastor that we love Christ and want to help other people know Him too.

We began to talk simply about Jesus Christ. And we began to see lives changed.

We have got to solve one major crisis before we start tackling the world – that crisis is in the Church. We can’t help other people until we are first sure of ourselves.

Do you know tonight whether you are clean in the sight of God?

Do you know whether or not you are filled with God’s Spirit? If you don’t know, then you are part of the problem. Before you and I dare to tackle the crisis in our Church, let us tackle the crisis in our lives.

That has been one of my greatest problems. I began without relying upon Jesus Christ as the Lord of my life. Then, after I became a Christian, I found my Christian life in a decline. After a brief flurry of initial enthusiasm and a new quality of life, I found that I didn’t know how to walk with Christ. And I began to be very restless. Then someone shared with me a great but simple truth: as we receive Christ we are to walk with Him in the same way – by faith. We must live in the resurrection power of Christ. We must live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

If you and I go out in the energy of the flesh, we will not give life. We will slash and cut. We will be part of the problem … unless we go in the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is a great crisis in our Church. Membership declined 201,000 last year. There was a $75,000,000 decline in giving last year. Why? Because the spiritual life of the Church has been withering. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches … As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. ”

Are you willing to abide in Christ? If so, you will bear fruit. He has made this promise. If all of us right here in this room are willing to abide in Jesus Christ, then, fellow laymen, we can change the world!

What is your faith? If the first word that flashes into your mind is “United Methodist”, then I question your faith. Who is your God? The Church?

When you and I will look to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and name His name above all names, that is the point of beginning. I am not here to perpetuate United Methodism. My Lord said that “He who saves his life shall lose it.” And we have been trying to save it as a denomination for too long a time. No wonder we have been losing! We OUGHT to lose, if we are simply trying to save a denominational name. But if we are willing to lose everything for His sake, then we will find all that really matters.

Methodism grew because it was a bunch of people who lost their lives for Christ’s sake. They were willing to be fools for Him. They were willing to be available to God. They were willing to be used by the Holy Spirit. When we are willing to go anyplace, everyplace, we will see how much power Jesus Christ has.

It is my privilege to be part of a company of men of many denominations – many of them United Methodists – who are saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, You gave a commandment. You said to go into all of the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. We shall see every person in this nation – every person around the world – confronted with the Gospel of Christ. ”

Sound like wild talk? I believe we can see it within 10 years. Why? Because we Americans have already shown our secular capability to promote a program and sell products. We have learned how to communicate Bonanza to 500 million people a week.

Is God at least as powerful as the communications media? He is the one who said “You go tell everybody. ” All the power on Heaven and earth are His.

I would like to share with you a strategy, which I believe God will use. I believe that we can see this nation confronted with the Gospel of Christ, on a person-to-person basis within six and one-half years. Yes – by December of 1976, every person and every home in America can have a personal eyeball-to-eyeball presentation of the Gospel of Christ.

We don’t need a new strategy for placing the troops. They are placed, all over this nation. The problem is, we have a form of Godliness but deny the power thereof.

There is no more time to play games. With 1 million people who mean business for Jesus Christ, we can see this nation reached with the Gospel in six and one-half years. That will change this nation.

Do you believe that if you were trained and equipped, you could bear witness to 100 families in your neighborhood? It can’t be done while we go to religious meetings and unsaved people go to hell.

The local church can change from being a gas station where empty tanks are filled up once a week, into a training center. The pastor, called by God to feed the sheep, is the leader. There needs to be a Director of Lay Evangelism in each church. He is needed to motivate and involve people in training for Christian witnessing. To live in the power of God’s Spirit. To share Jesus Christ. Once we laymen are walking in the power of God’s Spirit, we can be the church of 1 Corinthians, the 12th chapter.

We must begin to offer training according to the gifts that people have. If it is to lead a Bible study, train them in this. Train them in how to have informal evangelistic meetings (such as barbecues). Train them to share their faith in any type of setting where people socialize together. People are open that way.

My wife and I had the privilege of seeing over 100 commit their lives to Christ, here in this city just a few years ago, the first time we had a chance to go into homes and share the basic Gospel of Christ.

We can have many different strategies. We are not all alike. But if we walk in God’s Spirit, He can take the diversity that makes up the Body of Christ and knit us all together by His Spirit until we complement each other’s capabilities.

There are men in this room who have secular abilities in administration. You can free-up your pastors and other men to use for Christ their primary gifts. You can be a part of the fulfillment of God’s Great Commission, if you will walk in the Spirit and begin right where you are.

Are you a pastor? Ask God to show you how to make your church a training center.

Are you a layman? Go to your pastor. Tell him how much you love him and how thankful you are that God called him into the ministry. (It’s time we stop griping and start volunteering ourselves to be available, to be a help, to confront people with the Gospel of Christ.)

There are millions of people who believe in Christ as Savior and Lord who gather every Sunday morning in churches across America. Millions. What if each would commit himself or herself to share Christ with 100 families?

Laymen, do you want to part of the action? Then walk in His Spirit, and you will be part of the true Church. Give yourself. Volunteer. Help involve other people for the sake of Christ and His Church. Are you willing? If so – laymen – we will change the world!


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