Changed

Dr. Paul Chappell

Luis Montaño was not unlike many of the teenagers involved in our city gangs in the 1990s. He came to church with a shaved head and baggy pants, but underneath his tough exterior was a young man with a troubled past.

Luis was born in Hermosillo, Mexico. His parents were divorced when he was six years old. His mother feared that his father would use his political influence to take Luis and his two sisters away from her, so she moved the family to Lancaster, California.

The family lived about two miles from Lancaster Baptist Church, and soulwinners often knocked on their door. Mrs. Montaño, however, was Catholic and consistently sent them away. Luis sometimes made fun of them with his friends.

As a teen, Luis struggled. He got involved in a gang, and his grades plummeted. His lifestyle brought him to four different high schools, and when he eventually graduated, it was from a continuation school.

A family Luis met invited him to Open House Sunday in 1996. This time, he accepted the invitation. Little did that family know why.

A godly usher noticed Luis as he slipped into one of the back pews of the Spanish department and listened to the service. As the message closed, our Spanish pastor invited anyone who did not know Christ as Saviour to come to the front where someone would show them from the Bible how to be saved.

The usher tapped Luis on the shoulder. “I noticed you’re visiting today. Let me ask you a question: If you were to die today, are you one hundred percent sure that you would spend eternity in Heaven?”

Too proud to admit he needed salvation, Luis responded, “I believe in God. I’m not really interested.”

In reality, Luis was intensely interested.

The Way to Change

Our churches are surrounded with people like Luis—people who are desperate for answers and need to find lasting change in their lives. And God has given us, His people, the opportunity to point all of these people down the path of truth—the path to the Lord Jesus Christ who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

There’s just one problem. God’s people seem to have lost the way. Churches across our nation are abandoning the old paths of biblical ministry and following popular culture down paths of worldliness. Amazingly, they believe that if a church moves to the path of the ungodly, she can better call the ungodly off the path.

The prophet Jeremiah lived in a day when his people were making wrong choices. Although they had seen firsthand the incredible guidance of God and known the joy of walking with Him, they were now choosing to go their own way—preferring paths of greater immediate attraction to the old and proven paths of righteousness.

What the Israelites didn’t realize was that the paths they were choosing led to destruction and a certain national calamity. God sent Jeremiah to warn His people and to call them to return to the old and proven paths of blessing: “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16). As to Judah of old, God still calls His people to return to the old paths.

Churches at the Crossroads

As Jeremiah sounded out God’s call to His people, he painted an image of a desert traveler who had arrived at a point where the trail divides into several paths. Now this traveler must make a choice. Which way to go?

When we step back and look at the paths many churches today are taking, we see some startling characteristics. Like hazardous canyon trails, these paths wind dangerously near the world and wander around fleshly attractions. They are landmarked with a lack of distinctive living, a loss of doctrinal integrity, and a decline in spiritual commitment.

If a teenager like Luis Montaño were to visit many churches in America today, he would be greeted by a youth pastor who looked like he was trying to imitate Luis’ gang friends, hear music that could have been taken right off of Luis’ iPod (with the words adjusted), and hear a message lacking any solid truth or biblical moorings. He would encounter nothing that would point him to seriously consider his present path and make a decision for Christ. He would leave exactly as he came—still desperate for a different direction. People today say the old paths don’t work. They say that the old paths are anti-cultural and don’t reach our generation. If by “old path” one means avoiding technology and using outdated materials, then perhaps they are correct in their conclusion. But if by “old path” one simply means walking and ministering according to principles of holiness and faithfulness to God’s Word, they are mistaken. The old path is the good way.

One of the reasons I’m thankful for what God has done here in Lancaster is that it proves that the old paths still work. Our church started with a handful of people on the backside of the desert. We printed tracts and began going soulwinning. We loved people and preached the truth. We discipled new converts and encouraged growth in grace. And it worked.

We had no rock band concerts, no seeker-driven community surveys, no worldly styled entertainment. We just followed the old paths. God took a struggling church in the middle of the desert that determined to walk in the old paths, and He blessed it. The old paths are still the good way.

Pastor, you don’t need new “tricks” to build your church. You need the old paths of soulwinning, compassion, and Spirit-filled preaching and discipleship.

Christian, if you are in a church walking in the old paths, thank God for it! Refuse the tendency to veer off to a path leading to seemingly greener plants. Whole-heartedly invest yourself in teaming with your church to do God’s work in God’s way.

Consider the Destination

Jeremiah 6:16 identifies the old paths as “the good way.” So why are churches abandoning it? Why isn’t everyone using it? The old path is the good way because it ends at a good destination. But it’s not the easy way. The old path is sometimes steep, dusty, tiring, and even lonely. And some people prefer the immediate results of easier trails, not recognizing that the easy trails fail to produce lasting spiritual fruit.

Statistics are revealing the barrenness of the seeker-sensitive church model over the last decades. Young people especially are bailing out of church in high percentages. Most churches are losing over seventy percent of their young people once they graduate from high school, and many never return. The new paths may help gather a crowd, but they take the crowd in the wrong direction.

Our nation is in desperate need of revival. Even as Jeremiah ministered in a time of spiritual unfaithfulness and idolatry, so America today is rapidly turning from God. Americans are increasingly refusing the faith of our fathers and insisting on a path of self-destruction through moral decline and a rejection of truth.

How can we call the nation back to the good way if we ourselves are forsaking the old paths? We need pastors and people who will trust God’s Word—that God will bless the old paths—and who will commit to “walk therein.”

Yes, the old path is rigorous. But it leads to an incredible destination. Lancaster Baptist is one of thousands of churches around the world that proves that a church committed to the old paths can lead people down a road of grace which brings people to a life-changing encounter with God.

Where the Old Path Leads New Travelers

Luis Montaño needed an encounter with God—and he knew it. All week long after his first visit to Lancaster Baptist Church, Luis thought about the usher’s question: “If you were to die today, are you one hundred percent sure that you would spend eternity in Heaven?” He could hardly wait for the next Sunday. When he got to church, he quickly found the usher who had asked him about his salvation.

“Sir,” he began, “you asked me a question last week, and I really want to know the answer to it today.”

The usher gladly sat down with Luis and showed him from the Bible how he could be saved. Then he encouraged Luis to receive Christ as his Saviour.

“No,” Luis protested. “This is way too simple. There is no way that everything I’ve done could be simply forgiven. It’s just too easy.”

The usher tried to convince Luis that Jesus’ sacrifice is truly sufficient to pay for all of his sin. But Luis couldn’t see it. The rest he so desperately craved surely couldn’t be that simply attained.

The family who first invited Luis to church invited him to their home for dinner that afternoon. At the table, Luis asked a question that had been burning in his heart all morning. Disguising his intensity, he casually asked, “By the way, what do you think about salvation?” With joy, they opened the Bible and showed Luis the plan of salvation.

Finally, Luis understood that, although receiving salvation is simple for us, Jesus paid a great price for it. That night, Luis asked Christ to save him. And from that moment on, Luis was on a different path.

Luis grew by leaps and bounds. Immediately, he displayed a hunger for things of the Lord. A few weeks later, Luis was baptized. Six months later, he came to me at the end of the service with a big smile and an important announcement. “Pastor, I feel God has called me to preach.”

I was thrilled! But before I could respond, he continued, “Do you know of any Bible colleges where I could train?”

At that point, I thought he was playing some kind of a prank. After all, as the president of West Coast Baptist College, I had done my best to make sure our young people knew that they could attend Bible college right on our eighty-acre campus. I looked into Luis’ eyes and said, “Well, it just so happens we have a Bible college right here called West Coast Baptist College.”

He surprised me again when he responded by sincerely asking for more information about the school. The following semester, Luis enrolled and began training at West Coast Baptist College.

Luis’ appetite for ministry was insatiable. He helped serve in our Spanish youth department, the bus ministry, and other outreach programs. Through helping in the Spanish ministry, Luis met Magdalena Sandoval, a young lady who had also accepted Christ through our ministry. Luis and Maggie fell in love, and it was my privilege to conduct their wedding ceremony. After graduating from West Coast Baptist College and getting married, the couple moved to the San Jose area where they began serving full time in the ministry.

A couple of years later, Lancaster Baptist Church had the privilege of ordaining Luis into the Gospel ministry. As the pastoral staff and deacons met with Luis and began questioning him regarding his doctrine and philosophy of ministry, we were truly amazed at what God had done in his life. All of us in the meeting wept as we listened to him recount his story.

As Luis shared how God transformed him from a troubled teenager to a preacher of the Gospel, we realized anew the power of the Gospel and the fruitfulness of local church ministry. He shared his vision to go to the mission field and establish a church like the church that reached him, as well as a Bible college to train others in church   planting.

After a few years of ministry in San Jose and a missions trip to El Salvador with our church, Luis returned to Lancaster Baptist Church and began deputation as a missionary to Mexico. He began calling pastors across the country and setting up meetings to present his work and raise financial support. With diligence and persistence, Luis raised his support in record-setting time. He once told me that he would rise at 5:00 am and begin making phone calls at 6:00 am to the pastors on the East Coast. He called well over two thousand churches simply to line up meetings in a few hundred churches. His passion to get to the field was amazing.

What a joy it was a few years ago when Luis called me and said, “Pastor, we are getting ready to drive across the border at Nogales. Pray that things will go well.” Things did go well at the border crossing, and they have been going well ever since. Luis is now the pastor of the Hermosillo Baptist Church in his birth town. He and Maggie are winning souls to Christ on a weekly basis, discipling them, and building a local New Testament church.

Luis’ story speaks of the fulfillment of the old paths. Because our church was faithful to walk in the old paths, God used us to reach Luis and see his life transformed. Today, Luis is directing Mexicans to the old paths of rest and service. I’m thankful we didn’t abandon the old paths.

The Choice for Change

Do you want to see lives transformed by the power of the Gospel? Then commit to walking in the old paths that uplift God’s grace in righteousness and holiness. God calls all of us to make a choice to “ask for the old paths…and walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16).

When God presented this choice to the Israelites and pleaded with them to walk in the old paths, they responded, “We will not walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16). Pushing past the warnings of their weeping prophet, they plunged ahead on the path of pleasure and idolatry. And they suffered the consequences—seventy years in foreign captivity.

America today is suffering the consequences of pastors and churches who have refused the old paths. When we should have been calling our nation back to God and to righteousness, we’ve instead been obsessed with drawing large crowds and becoming visibly successful. We’ve traded the steep paths of preaching the Gospel and loving people for the easy ways of fitting in and comforting people.

But the old paths really do work. Even in the context of twenty-first century ministry, God still blesses the basic principles of His Word. God’s grace is powerful! And seeing it in action doesn’t require jumping paths to manufacture a semblance of God’s blessing. He still transforms lives by the power of the Gospel and the ministry of the local church. The old path is the good path. It leads travelers not to men, but to God Himself. It leads to rest and peace. Choose the old paths—where God blesses His work.

This article has been adapted from Dr. Paul Chappell's newest book In Desert Places.