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What I Learned Most from the Life and Ministry of Frank Barker

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 21, number four, January 27, 2022

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” -John 15:7

Dr. Frank Barker, whom many of you reading this knew and who were led to Christ by him and then discipled by him, entered the presence of Jesus on December 27. He would have turned ninety just a few weeks after his passing. Interestingly, his wife Barbara died just a week or two after Frank. As Olan Stubbs of Campus Outreach has said, “If you meet a Christian in Birmingham who is sixty or older, and you ask them how they came to Christ, I’d bet my money that at some point they’ll mention Frank Barker.” Frank’s daughter Peggy says that she estimates he personally led about 10,000 people to Christ. While Frank did not personally lead me to Christ two of his disciples (Randy Pope and Walter Wood) did while the three of us were students at the University of Alabama in the early 1970’s. However Frank quickly made a huge impact on my life. I attended Briarwood a few times while I was at Alabama and later took several classes at the then new Birmingham Theological Seminary. I also went to Frank in the spring of 1974 and asked if Briarwood would support me financially (which they did) on my first mission trip. I went with a group of Christian college baseball players to Central America for five weeks and played games against national teams and preached Christ after and during the games. The biggest early impact, however, which Frank made on my life and Wini’s life as well, was when we heard Frank speak on a Friday night at some lake in Tuscaloosa. There was a large group of college students there and Wini and I were new believers. Frank spoke from John 15 on the necessity of abiding in Christ. Somewhere else a few weeks later in a different setting we heard him give the same message. And then we heard it a third time. Wini and I thought it was funny that Frank used the same message countless times but it has stuck with both of us all these years. So a year or so ago one of my Briarwood friends gave me a little tract, which was the sermon Frank preached when he retired from Briarwood in 1999 and Harry Reeder took his place. I have since reread this tract several times. It was classic Frank Barker. Simple, Biblical, straightforward, practical, while at the same time being profound. I have asked around for permission to reprint it but was unable to secure permission from anyone. When I asked Billy Barnes, Franks’s son-in-law, to whom I might speak in gaining permission to reprint it, he  said, “I know Frank would be great with that.” So I am reprinting this short message in its entirety. I hope it moves you as it has me repeatedly over the last fifty years of my Christian life. 

Continuous Revival

My call to Briarwood (as it was later named) came during its early planning stages. As I was praying about the church in those days, I had read how God brought David a band of men to stand and fight with him. I asked God, “Bring me a band of men who will join hands and be part of this church.” I also asked God to give a foundation of committed Christian couples to undergird the new thing He was going to do. The Lord graciously did exactly that. 

I also read how God, in times past, moved in nations to bring mighty awakenings. There were the great revivals in England under the ministries of the Wesleys and Whitefield. Here in the United States God used Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to instigate a great revival. Periodically every fifty to one hundred years God has done something dramatic with thousands being converted. I prayed for this kind of revival, and still do, for it is desperately needed. 

However, as I was studying John 15, I discovered a continuous revival was available. Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” If we abide in Him, there are certain consequences. We will bring forth fruit, see our prayers answered, experience joy, glorify the Father, and give evidence that we are His disciples. Another way of saying “abiding in Christ” is to “walk in the Spirit” or “live by the Spirit,” (Gal.5:16)

The Fruit of God’s Life in Us

There will be two kinds of fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. First, God’s life within us will reveal His character which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul explains the word love so we can understand its meaning. It is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not proud or rude. It is not self-seeking or easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. As we allow Him to control our life, our actions and reactions will demonstrate this kind of love.

The second kind of fruit Christ, or the Holy Spirit, produces is when other lives are impacted through our changed lives when we share the gospel. Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last,” (John 15:16). For example, when Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, as recorded in John 4, she put her faith in Him. Then she went and told others, “Come, see a man who told me all I ever did. Is this not the Christ?” The people in her village came and believed on Him.

When the disciples came with food, He told them He was not hungry because, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” They asked each other, “Could someone have brought Him food?” Jesus told them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work. Do you not say four months more and then the harvest? I tell you, open your eyes, and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life.” The King James says, “. . . he that reaps gathers fruit for life eternal.”

As I meditated on John 15, I realized that this is revival. If our lives are being changed and our witness is changing others, we have revival. 

 Constantly Relying

John 15 tells what is involved in abiding “as a branch abides in the vine.” Abiding means constantly relying on Jesus Christ in me to meet my needs and to work through me as I witness to others. First, we must rely on Him as Savior. When He calls us through His word to trust in His death and for the forgiveness of our sins and surrender to Him as Master we are in the Vine. But we must rely on Him daily to change us and produce His fruit through us.

 Constantly Relinquishing

He says, “If you obey my commands, you will remain or abide in me,” (John 15:10). This involves the need for the constant relinquishing of our will to His will. Daily we give up our will for His will as He shows us areas of our lives where we might be resisting His will.

Constantly Retaining

Another part of abiding is brought out in John 15:7, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you. . . “ It is important to be constantly retaining His Word by daily reading and memorizing. It is in the Word that we discover the promises and the truths we can rely on. The Word will transform us as we look at life from His point of view.

Romans 12 tells us not to be “conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We learn His will through the Word. If we don’t know any better, we can’t do any better. But when we understand what His ways are, we can obey His word. 

Constantly Requesting

The joy of having our prayers answered comes next. John 15:7 goes on to say, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask what you will, and it will be given to you.” We must constantly be requesting, or praying. If we will constantly rely (or abide), relinquish our will, retain His word and make prayer requests, then He will produce fruit in and through our lives. If enough people in a church do this, we have revival. Sure we want nationwide revival and statewide revival, but we can personally see revival begin as we practice the principles of abiding.

Building the Church

I resolved that this would be my approach to building a church. I would teach the Scriptures until everyone knew how to abide in Christ and bring forth fruit.

Another formative passage for me was Ephesians 4. Here Paul writes to the church, “It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service.” This was a whole new concept for me. My main job as a pastor became equipping Christians to do the work of ministry. My task was to help them develop their gifts, use their gifts, be grounded in the Word, and learn to share their faith. We have used different methods to share Christ. In recent years Evangelism Explosion has been our way of helping people learn to share their faith.

The great passage in 1 Timothy 4:1,2 gave me further guidance. Paul tells Timothy, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His kingdom, I give you this charge, Preach the Word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. . . keep your head in all situations, enduring hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” That’s how I approached the work of the ministry. I sought to do that, and I’ve done it very imperfectly. You, my congregation, have been very patient and helped me immensely.

Dr. Frank Barker, Sunday night, September 12, 1999, Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama. 

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