Every so often, a major media outlet will put out a list of the "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America" or some such thing. Last year, Christianity Today issued a list of "33 under 33"--"33 Christians 33 or younger to watch." Like almost everything CT does, it was very well done, and the young people they highlighted are certainly notable and inspiring. But it made me wonder, what would a list like this look like if God were putting it together? No doubt there would be some notable ministry leaders in that list, as there are in ours. But I'm guessing there would also be a whole lot of people that we've never heard of. So here's my attempt (using fictional names and stories) to describe a list of the "top American evangelicals" that we often miss (but whom God knows very well).
- Marjorie Smith, 79 years old, who sits in the fourth row from the back at First Baptist Church every Sunday, and who attends every Wednesday night prayer meeting faithfully. Her friends know her as a kind and gentle woman. God knows her as a prayer warrior the likes of which our churches have seldom seen, and when she prays, God shakes the nations.
- Brian Williamson, 53, a divorced father of two whose marriage broke up because of his alcohol abuse. But for the last ten years he has persevered in his quest to stay away from his addiction, and every day for him is an act of courage, an epic battle of persistent trust in God. His long string of victories over grave personal struggles is a record of triumphant faith such as few people ever achieve.
- Philip Brouwerman, 28, a mentally handicapped young man who spends his life in a group assisted-living home. He has difficulty reading his Bible, and he can't articulate very many of the doctrines of Christianity in their proper form. But he has loved Jesus all his life, and he has loved him with such startling purity of motive that it doesn't even bear comparison to the spiritual lives of most other Christians.
- Mark Beeham, 35, a former pastor whose ministry collapsed after it was revealed that he carried on an extramarital affair with a woman from his church. In the years since that event, Mark has walked the road of repentance with great humility. He now practices a blue-collar job with extraordinary diligence and never resents it; he carries no bitterness towards those who revealed his misconduct or those who judged him for it. He has handled all of this with such humility that he now considers his fall from ministry the best thing that ever happened to him. He let God use it to slay the dragon of his prideful heart, and because of that, he has experienced a spiritual liberation, a new experience of God's presence, who gives grace to the humble, beyond what many other Christians ever get to taste.
- Maria Gonzales, 37, wife of an unbelieving husband. She has suffered the ups and downs of a turbulent marriage, often facing ridicule and dismissiveness from her husband. She has also had to bear with a series of difficult friendships--she continues to try to be kind and friendly and gracious, but somehow she often ends up on the receiving end of a lot of people trying to take advantage of her goodwill. She handles these hard relationships with perseverant trust in God, with continual attempts to understand and to love those around her, and to never cease trying to be a conduit of God's grace to others.
- Ramona Hinesworth, 22, a young woman who was raped a year ago. Not only was this terrible act done against her, but she has found that many people have seemed judgmental towards her because of it. She is walking a long road of forgiveness, and even though she acknowledges that she is not there yet, she is determined to walk that road to its end.
- Betsy Montgomery, 31, a mother to three wonderful but high-energy kids. She, like so many parents, has willingly given a large part of her time and talents to these little ones who will not truly understand the extent of her sacrifice until decades later, if even then. Nevertheless, she perseveres and allows the process, with all of its many trying moments, to slowly smooth away the rough edges of her character. She knows now, more than she ever did before, the self-centeredness, the anger, the resentments, the limited resources of our finite being--all these internal warts and blisters that we all have, but which many of us never give ourselves the opportunity to see. Betsy sees them, knows them, and she wrestles with them, like Jacob wrestling with the Lord, and she will not let go until he blesses her.
- Walter Jameson, 95, a widower now living in the nursing home, with children too wrapped up in their own affairs to tend to him in any substantial way. He is living out his final years with patient faith, even in the midst of crippling, persistent pain. Part of him has been wishing for the past ten years that the Lord would just take him home, but he remains--largely bedridden and wracked with pain. His resolution to rest in God's goodness, day after day, even in such times, is a quality of character that surpasses what most other Christians are capable of.
- Daniel Myers, 30, is not particularly good at anything. He is unremarkable in every way. He is a man who knows his own sinfulness, wishes he didn't sin quite as much, tries not to sin, and fails. Over and over and over again. He doesn't read his Bible as much as he should. He doesn't pray nearly as much as he should, and he's of too shy a temperament to really share his faith. But every time he falls, he comes back to the cross. On God's scale of things, he is a perfect "10," and so is everyone else, with all their failures, who come to the cross of Christ.
(All pictures are taken from the Wikimedia Commons and are part of the public domain.)
Note to My Readers: Due to the busyness of my summer schedule, in which I'm serving as a camp pastor on top of my normal duties, I'll be putting my ongoing Thursday and Friday series on hold until mid-August. All other days will continue to feature new content as usual, and the Thursday and Friday slots will offer devotional and theological reflections (heretofore unpublished) from my seminary years.