Keith and I were classmates at the seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and he moved on to serve as pastor in Tennessee.
One day, he sent me a newspaper clipping about an event in his town. His church youth group experienced a revival, and the group members committed themselves to living new lives of dedication. They decided to have a bonfire. Teens brought their music CDs with explicit lyrics and their shirts and caps with inappropriate logos and threw them into the fire.
The event was so unique that the local newspaper did a story.
Keith didn’t tell me, but I wondered if this event was inspired by a similar thing in the book of Acts.
Luke records that the apostle Paul spent more than two years in Ephesus on his third missionary journey (Acts 19).
After a series of miraculous events, the fear of the Lord fell upon the people. Apparently, many of the new converts still maintained a collection of sorcery books from their former lives as unbelievers, but they determined to confess their wrong and to sponsor a public book-burning. Luke records that the value of the books they brought out was substantial, so it was no small commitment the disciples made.
Such commitment reminds me of the familiar chorus, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”
The Ephesus event was on my mind a number of years ago when the family of former President Jimmy Carter was in the news.
Carter’s late sister, Ruth, an evangelist, found herself on an airplane seated next to one of the nation’s leading pornographers. Many of us find ourselves praying earnestly on airplanes, but this man announced he’d prayed and found faith through the witness of Ms. Stapleton on the flight. Later, he said he would convert his vile magazine into a Christian publication.
I’m not sure what happened to his announced intentions since I never saw his magazine for sale in Christian bookstores.
I told our church at the time that a public bonfire fueled by his magazines would be a great way to demonstrate the validity of his faith. As in Ephesus, this would be a costly sacrifice since he was reported to have made $30 million from sales in 1977.
The publisher later renounced his personal conversion, and the conversion of his magazine never happened.
The Ephesian incident teaches the demands of Christian faith. Conversion too often is seen as a simple confession of sin unrelated to daily lifestyle. Though we sometimes label some of our churches “holiness” churches, all churches and all Christians are called to be holy. The Bible declares, “Follow . . . holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.