June 1, 1996 was the last day of a very important chapter in my life: my three years in Life Action Ministries. I first heard of LAM from my good friend, Phillip Way, who as a teenager had sat through a six week crusade with LAM that absolutely changed his life. My first introduction to “America’s Family Centered Revival Team,” came through a series of videos which Phillip shared with my Dad and I. The videos featured a panel of godly men which had been greatly used by God in revival: Leonard Ravenhill, Manley Beasley, Bill McCloud, and the founder of Life Action, Del Fehsenfeld Jr, who had died of a brain tumor in 1989. The videos rocked my world and helped cultivate a growing hunger for revival in America.
In the Spring of 1993, Phillip and I went to a Life Action multi-media production called “The Family: Holding on For Life.” We were privileged to have some time with the Life Action “Red” Team before the service that night began, and I’ll never forget what happened. We joined together in prayer with this group of young Christians (most of them in their twenties), and for the first time in my life, I heard someone weep as they prayed for the salvation of President Bill Clinton. I was deeply touched. The program which followed also stirred my heart deeply, and I well remember crying and crying as I seriously pondered the tragedy and pain of the many broken homes with which I was acquainted.
It was not long before I decided to apply for service with Life Action. Though my desires to join the ministry were strong, I was not sure if it was God’s will or mine, so I sought the Lord for direction for several weeks. The Lord confirmed it as His will through my parents, the counsel of a godly pastor, the affirmation of my church, the provision of financial support, and Life Action’s acceptance of my application. Every “light” was “green,” and there is no doubt in my mind that joining LAM was God’s will for me.
I arrived at the Life Action “Ranch” (now called the Life Action Retreat and Conference Center) on June 10, 1993 (just a few hours ahead of an eighteen-year old Georgia beauty who would play a big role in my future!) The months and years to follow were to be some of the most formative in my growth in Christ. I’d like to share with you some of the very important things the Lord did in my life.
“Brian Hedges, meet Brian Hedges.”
The first thing the Lord did was show me myself. John Calvin has well said, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” I suppose that all Christians have to experience the pain of self-discovery. Through a series of events in those first several months with Life Action, the Lord unveiled my heart before me, and perhaps for the first time, I realized what a selfish, insecure, and wicked person I really was. The combination of both providentially ordered suffering and the intense self-examination fostered in the revival crusades helped me come to grips with what a wretch I was. Those days were incredibly painful. But as I look back, I thank the Lord for taking me through them.
“A Faithful Man Who Can Find?”
We live in a day of unparalleled godlessness in the world and mediocrity in the church. Examples of godliness and holiness are rare. I have been deeply privileged, in that God has blessed me with good examples both in the home and out. My exposure to godly men and women in Life Action is one of the chiefest blessings I have received.
During our first “Staff Training,” we were pastored by a man named Mark Bearden. I have never before or since met another man quite like Mark. From the first day, I loved him. He was in his early thirties, only recently married, and literally athirst for God. It was Mark who first directed me to A. W. Tozer. During a time of deep heartache, in which I desperately needed to surrender my desires to God, Mark directed me to “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing” (found in Tozer’s The Pursuit of God). His influence on my life is incalculable. (It was my great privilege to travel with Mark during my second year with LAM.) Other men invested in me as well. A very wise and godly preacher, Tim St. Clair, would meet me for breakfast and pour his life into me. David Foster became a source of accountability. Some of these men remain cherished friends to this day, men to whom I do not hesitate to go for counsel.
Another great benefit from those years was the widening of my horizons. I greatly needed the exposure to other parts of the country, and more importantly, different types of people and ways of thinking. With Life Action I went to dozens of different churches, met hundreds of people, and encountered some very different perspectives from my own.
I especially needed balance in my spiritual development. I went into Life Action with a better than average knowledge of the Bible and a very rigid theological system. I needed a deeper walk with God to match my Bible knowledge. And I needed freedom from the shackles of my unbalanced theology.
I began to see this sometime in 1994. I was a convinced Calvinist (as I am now), but my Calvinism was not of the same breed as Spurgeon’s or Whitefield’s. This was evident in my efforts to witness. I tripped all over myself trying to explain election to a fifteen year old boy one time! I didn’t know how to share the gospel with people. Numerous conversations with others helped sharpen my thinking and then God providentially led me to John MacArthur’s book Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles, and the lights turned on, leading me out of my hyper-Calvinism, and leading me into a deeper burden for lost people. How I thank God for that, for it has ushered me into a dimension of Christian living that I might not otherwise have known. One of my greatest joys was the privilege of leading my cousin, Matthew McClendon, to Christ during a Crusade in Fort Worth. I have found that there is no greater joy than that of seeing other sheep brought into the fold!
About six months into my first year with Life Action, a good friend commented that he thought the biggest difference he saw in my life was a “consistent hunger” for God. Well, I know that my hunger hasn’t been nearly as consistent as it should have been, but it is true that Life Action did something to the intensity of my desires for God. I will never forget our second crusade in Bangor, Maine when all I could say was that I hungered for a hunger for God. (I think it was in that crusade that I first saw the Lord provide for me financially in direct answer to prayer - a fifty-dollar bill showing up in my mail-box when I was virtually broke.) Many were the prayers that sprang from my heart. And, in time, the Lord heard me and showed me Himself.
Every Christian has to surrender himself or herself to Christ. You can’t be a Christian without surrender. But surrender is a progressive thing. Like an onion, we humans have layers! And surrender to Christ goes deeper and deeper as those layers are stripped away.
The deepest area of surrender for me was that of marriage. There were few things that I wanted more than to get married. I think that the willingness to surrender that dream was nearly as hard for me as being willing to slay Isaac must have been for Abraham. But the Lord would have His way, and one night in Marietta, Georgia, I surrendered through tears and told the Lord that if He wanted me single for my whole life that was okay with me. Little did I know that my future wife was somewhere in the building that night.
Ten Years Compressed Into Three
The teaching I received in Life Action was immensely helpful. I probably received over ten years worth teaching and training during those three years! We would begin each year with five weeks of intense teaching and training in Michigan, before hitting the road. The teaching covered many practical areas of Christian living from daily devotions to principles of giving, and we were trained in both evangelism and counseling.
I was on one of the Crusade teams during each of my three years with LAM. The Crusades would last a minimum of ten days and usually about two and a half weeks. One Crusade actually lasted five weeks! This meant that we were in worship services almost every night of the week. On top of that, we had “Team Meetings” and prayer meetings almost every day. Virtually every practical area of Christian living was covered: marriage, suffering, Bible study, prayer, humility, forgiveness, moral purity, “gray areas,” and discerning God’s will, just to name a few.
The Dynamics of Expository Preaching
By the end of my first year with Life Action, I was being given some occasional opportunities to teach. The second year brought more opportunity, as I helped with the Youth Seminars. By the third year, it was arranged for me to teach the College and Singles Class during the Crusades (on the Blue Team). This was my passion, for the Lord had called me to preach when I was seventeen.
The great highlight of the Staff Training preceding that third year, was the coming of Dr. Stephen F. Olford. Dr. Olford was, without doubt, one of the greatest preachers of our day (he passed away about two years ago). Olford came to LAM to deliver a series of lectures on The Dynamics of Expository Preaching, in which he taught and modeled excellence in Biblical exposition. Those lectures changed my whole outlook on preaching and ministry. I ordered the tapes and have listened to them over and over and over again. Probably every sermon I preach now is in some way influenced by what Dr. Olford taught me. My debt to him is incalculable.
Far Above Rubies
Very special among the blessings which came to me via Life Action Ministries was the gift of a dear friend, Holly Ivey. She had been my ‘mic-partner” for the majority of our time in LAM, and we became very close friends. We witnessed each other’s spiritual growth during those first two years, and our friendship gradually grew into love. I knew there was something special about this young woman, and I knew I didn’t want to live without her. I asked her to marry me during a Crusade in Amarillo, Texas in March of 1996. She said yes. We left the campus of the Life Action Retreat and Conference Center together on June 1, 1996 and on August 17th we were married. That was almost ten years ago.
Fulkerson Park Baptist Church
The day after I arrived in Michigan back in 1993, Kelly Reynolds, the personnel director for LAM, brought me and several other new team members to worship in the church where he also served as a part-time Youth Pastor. That church was Fulkerson Park Baptist Church. I sat on the second or third pew, about four or five people away from Holly! Little did I know how the Lord would so shape my life that thirteen years later, I would be married to Holly and the pastor of Fulkerson Park. None of that ever would have happened if the Lord had not brought me to Life Action. Thank God for his mysterious providence!