His name was Mike Taylor. He was a neighbor kid, a couple of years older than me and big for his age. He had the IQ of a kumquat, I’m sure, but when you are 11 and he is 13, that really doesn’t matter. What did matter is that he was a bully and all of the kids in the neighborhood were afraid of him, including yours truly.
One day we were walking home from school, my sister and I, a couple of friends, and Mike Taylor and his buddies were walking behind us. He was calling everyone in our little group names, especially my sister. He kept calling her “Twiggy,” maybe a clever pop-culture reference to a famous model of that era, but more likely, a comment on my sister’s body shape. Now in all fairness, Charlotta was 8 years old a Twiggy was a pretty accurate description. I kept reminding the group that we were Christians. Christians did not return an eye for an eye. Christians stayed above the fray. Christians turned the other cheek.
I was spectacular in my calm reasoning, my spiritual superiority. I kept the little band together, facing straight ahead, ignoring the bully, and marching toward home. Until bully Mike Taylor said, “And your brother is a four-eyed sissy.” Again, in fairness, I was four-eyed, having worn glasses since the I was little. And I was probably a little bit of a sissy, especially with the bully pack breathing down my neck. But Mike Taylor had gone too far. This was a matter of honor, (at least as much honor as a 11 year old can have.) He was besmirching our family name, and in the Name of Jesus, there will be no besmirching going on today.
I turned to face the enemy horde, blowed up my scrawny self, balled up my tiny fist, and said, in my most manly, squeaky voice, “Mike Taylor, you are a bully and we are not going to take this anymore.” Now, I really don’t know what WE meant because as soon as I turned around, my little band of compatriots put it in high gear and started sprinting for home. Well, it would be a wonderful story if on that day, I stood up to the bully Mike Taylor, he backed down, saw the error of his ways, gave his heart to Jesus, and we became life-long friends.
Actually, Mike Taylor and his friends laughed, and he proceeded to beat the stuffing out of me. You know that thing about not hitting a man with glasses? Doesn’t work. I tried to play that card but he just carefully took them off, handed them to a buddy, and then beat me like a second hand drum.
This fall, October 4-5 to be exact, we are taking Simply Free to Mt. Vernon, Ohio. Simply Free is a spiritual outbreak weekend where praise, worship, and powerful testimonies are brought to bear to unleash the power of God to “set His captives free.” Imagine the old fashioned Wednesday night testimony service, the rockin’ Christian concert, and a lay witness weekend all rolled into one. Simply Free is a vision that God gave my wife 12 years ago and He has used it many times since then to see miracles happen in the lives of those who attend and those who participate. The first year we did Simply Free we sent an email to some friends, had a room that would hold 40 people. 600 signed up. It has been AMAZING every year.
That’s Simply Free. What about the other elements in that equation? Mt. Vernon is a quaint, Norman Rockwellesque little town in Central Ohio. It happens to be the place where Doris and I really began a life of ministry in earnest. We were called to be on staff at a wonderful church in Mt. Vernon 38 years ago, and spent 5 of the most wonderful years of our lives there. It was the location of great spiritual development for us both. It was also the place of some heartbreaking decisions by me. What a God thing to be invited back to bring Simply Free to a community that we have loved for nearly 40 years.
But there is another character in this little drama, Mike Taylor, the bully. His name isn’t Mike Taylor now. It is Satan, or the devil, or Lucifer, or the enemy, but he is still present and he is still a bully. My guess is that he will, if he hasn’t already, begin to taunt, attack, call names, try to make us believe that this is a terrible idea, and we cannot win. One of our dear friends sent me an email a few days ago from Mt. Vernon and she said, “I really believe (we) are under attack. I’m so hopeful for this event, not just for our church but for Mt. Vernon. God is going to use (Simply Free) to change lives.”
In the 12th chapter of Revelation, John says that the bully is, “an accuser.” He says in verse 10, “He accuses then day and night.” Sound familiar? That voice that sits on your shoulder 24 hours a day and reminds you of all the times you have tried and failed before, of all the things you have done wrong so that you don’t deserve for God to act on your behalf? He is a bully and he taunts you continually, convincing you, or at least trying to convince you, that God will not come through. That Mike Taylor makes me so mad.
But THEN, Revelation 12:11 says, “And they overcame (the bully Mike Taylor) by the Blood of the Lamb and the Word of their Testimony. You know what that sounds like to me? Simply Free. Praising and worshipping the Lamb, and testifying to the mighty things that He has done in us and through us. Listen, we will win this battle and take back what the enemy has stolen. We will silence the accuser by praise and worship, and by our testimonies.
I read in my devotions this morning Deuteronomy 20. “When you go to war against your enemies and you see horses and chariots and armies that are bigger than yours, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THEM. The Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt (that’s a testimony) will be with you (that’s a praise.) ….The Lord your God goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies AND TO SAVE YOU.” (verses 1 & 5)
So here’s what we do. We start right now preparing for the battle. We need people to join us in prayer. We need people to start praising God for what He HAS done, what He IS doing, and what He WILL do. We need you to tell your stories, to everyone you can about how God has fought for you in the past and how He is going to come through on October 4-5. Over the next few months we will have a series of meetings in Mt. Vernon to prepare for Simply Free. If you live in that area, join us for those. Each one will be a time of praise, prayer and preparation. Above all, DO NOT LOSE HEART. The battle belongs to the Lord.
And, if you happen to see Mike Taylor, (he is an old man now,) carefully take his glasses off, hand them to a buddy, and slap the snot out of him. (I am still working on forgiveness.)
PS . Just 2 weeks after Simply Free in Mt. Vernon we will do Simply Free in Murfreesboro. October 25-26. All of the things we said about MV applies to the ‘Boro. It’s going to be AWESOME.