I had promised Randy and Marty that I would come by the Maranatha house that afternoon after my physics lab.
My mind reeled from my confrontation with Sheila as I made my way across campus to the MCM House. Although the trees shown with brilliant orange colors while scads of students lolled on the quad, or played frisbee, I did not register any of it. Not really.
My mind focused on Sheila. For I really like people to like me and I especially like those I am close to to like, and be pleased, by what I am doing. And I really did not want to disappoint my good friend.
For even a goof like me could figure out that Sheila violently opposed my supposed conversion and new-found faith.
As I walked into the MCM House that afternoon I noticed fresh flowers on the mantle of the fireplace and to my left I could see the large meeting room set up with about 200 chairs with a stage, band equipment, and audio speakers.
At this point in my life, some thirty years later I would ask, “Where is the money coming for all these nice things?” But the only impression it made on me then was, “Wow, this is a very, very nice place, much nicer than the house I grew up in.”
Sam, the associate pastor and Marty the MCM administrator stood waiting on me in the meeting room area. As they stood up to shake my hands Bob Weiner came walking out of the office to my left with another man, a tall, muscular guy with almost jet black long hair parted down the middle in the style of the time. Bob slapped me on the back and asked me how things were going.
“Now I know what it means to be a true follower of Jesus and I can feel the power of the Spirit,” I said seeking his approval.
“Remember”, Bob said “It’s not how high you jump but how you long run. We are running a race for God. And it is a marathon.”
I thought this an odd comment at the time but, as time passed, I slowly understood that running a marathon was an apt description of what would take place. But forget any stands along the way with water to quench your thirst.
The dark-haired fellow gave me a quick crooked smile, said nothing, and kept walking with Bob. The two of them opened a door at the back of the meeting room that I had not noticed last night and disappeared. The tall guy with Bob was Mike Caulk, I later learned, who had just been appointed head pastor of the Auburn Ministry.
Sam, Marty and I continued upstairs to the same room we were in last night.
This room was Marty’s study/bedroom. Marty pulled out a large soft bound book that had a bright red color.
“This is a Bible study for new Christians,” Marty said. “It is called Bible Studies for A FIRM Foundation“. I looked at the cover; the authors were Bob and Rose Weiner.
“Who is Rose Weiner?” I asked.
“Rose is Bob’s wife,” Sam said in a reverential tone. He continued, “She has a true heart and understanding of God’s plan and is a real prophet.”
“Prophet????” I thought. I had never heard the word prophet used except in the past tense when referring to Nehemiah or Jonah, but never in the present tense.
“It is essential Tik,” said Marty, “That you really get a firm understanding of the faith and so we will work you through the basics in these 26 studies.”
He continued, “But we will not begin at the first lesson but rather start today at discipleship: how being a disciple and becoming a disciple is the key to being an overcomer and a first century Christian.”
So I began my first structured Bible Study in Maranatha Christian Ministries. (I obtained a copy of this from Alibris.com. What follows is based on the contents of this study and my recollections of that afternoon.)
The Firm Foundations Study (or the Red Book, as it was called, by MCM) consisted of a list of verses to be read were then followed by fill in the blank statements with a few open-ended questions scattered in.
One verse that we looked at in the study was from Luke.
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” Marty read.
“You see Tik,” said Marty, “without a shepherd the lost sheep would never find his way to the fold. So all sheep need a shepherd.”
I filled in the study statement.
But if I had been truthful I was having a hard time connecting the scripture to what Mike said.
More importantly what did he mean by, “All sheep need a shepherd”?
He then referred to another scripture out of Mark: “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
“This means that without a shepherd the crowd could not learn the things of God. That is why Jesus felt sorry for them because they did not have a shepherd. His Church is his bride; in fact, we will become like Jesus in time. But in order to do so God will give us shepherds to hold us accountable and to help us grow in our walk just like Jesus acted as a shepherd for his disciples.”
I wrote this down dutifully in the blank spot on the page.
We looked at another scripture from John: “The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.”
Sam said, “This scripture is key to understanding why the traditional churches are dead, and why we Christians who make a commitment to Jesus fall away and get involved in immorality and other sin. You see unless we have a shepherd who is truly committed to our walk with Jesus we will be scattered when the wolf comes. This is why you have been dissatisfied with your walk and with the watered down old line churches and the ministries like Campus Crusade for Christ.”
Now this made sense to me- because this is exactly what I had seen at Auburn and in my own life.
But there was a lingering doubt.
You see I agreed with what they were saying about being held accountable but was this what this scripture actually meant? It did not seem to me to have this meaning this so I stuck this teaching in the closet in the back of my mind along with the Maranatha theory of water baptism.
And finally we reviewed this verse: “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.”
“You see Tik that was the charge that Jesus gave to Peter. Feed his sheep. Jesus was the great shepherd and was the overseer of the disciples and provided them a covering. They in turn were shepherds and covered their sheep. In turn these sheep also covered their sheep and so on. This ensured that the entire Body of Christ would be provided a covering so that all could be disciples.”
“In order to be a Christian you must be a true disciple. In fact, the followers of Jesus in the first century were called disciples long before they were called Christians,” said Sam. “So we can safely say that if you are not a disciple with a shepherd you cannot be a Christian.”
He pointed to the scripture in Acts, “And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.”
“To sum it up: to be a Christian you must be a disciple of Jesus. Disciple has the same root as discipline. It means that we must have someone who disciplines us, that holds us accountable, that counsels. Since we cannot be a Christian without being a disciplined disciple, and since we will be scattered without a shepherd watching for us and being accountable for our souls, we must all have a shepherd or we will fall and lose our faith,” Sam intoned.
“Tik, this is why we see so many fake, watered down Christians and dead churches. They have no shepherds, they are not disciples, they are scattered in the wind and are therefore not Christians.”
I followed the line of reasoning. It made sense to me.
No different than what happened in engineering school. I had an advisor and professors that held me accountable, that ensured I was making progress in my studies, that ensured I had the discipline needed to complete my studies. My father had instilled the white Anglo-Saxon work ethic and discipline in me when I was a young boy. And it seemed true: this lack of discipline in Bible Study, in actions, in spiritual growth, was the very weakness I saw in the current Christian organizations I was part of.
But, although I very much liked what they were saying, and it was apparent that the lack of oversight and discipline crippled other campus ministries, I could not connect the scriptures they were using to the points that they were making.
The very points I agreed with.
So I made a critical mistake.
I ignored what my “gut” was telling me, that if the scriptures did not line up then question the teaching. Rather my reaction was, “What they are saying is correct, and probably true, s0 I’ll over-look the discrepancy.”
Then they got to the main point, the place that we were heading to since we started the study over an hour ago.
“We have been praying about it (‘who was the “we” he was referring to?” I wondered) and it has been decided (“by whom?” I wondered) that Marty will be your shepherd ”
Marty reached over and gave me an awkward hug.
“Tik it will be great growing together in our work with the Lord.”
Then he pushed his glasses up on his nose and cleared his throat. “Tik I will be meeting with my new disciples tomorrow morning in the meeting room at 6:00 am for an hour of prayer and study. I look forward to seeing you there.”
I gulped. I barely had free time as it was with my frat duties, 17 hours of class and labs and at least 20 hours of study along with it plus any attendance at church or bible studies.
I smiled weakly.
“I can’t wait,” I said.
If this is what one must do to be a true disciple, to bear fruit, to be part of what God end movement then why not? It seemed to me to be the only way: to commit to Jesus as much or more than what I was giving to my studies, the frat or my social life. Nothing else seemed to work from what I had seen.
But what I did not understand was that in Maranatha there were no distinct sphere of life- school, social, private- all of my life was considered fair game.
All of it.
So it was I became a sheep and my first shepherd, the person who would gradually and inexorably take control of my life was Marty, a person I barely knew…a person I was giving the keys of my entire life to, although I did not exactly realize this at that time.
For now I was a sheep complete with my own personal shepherd.