Hello everybody and welcome in to episode #363 of the Bible 2021 podcast. We are reading reading 1 Corinthians 15 today and our focus is on A Memorial for Frank M. Barker – My First Pastor, and A Tremendous Influence In My Life + How Death is Overcome and Swallowed Up By Resurrection! We want to invite as many people as possible to join us in daily Bible reading, so help spread the word and share the podcast! Don’t forget about our web-page, Bible2021.com – contact page, show notes, transcript and more– Click here for our Bible 2021 reading plan\
We finished reading through the New Testament yesterday – way to go if you’ve been with us from the beginning of the year! For the last three days of the year, we will be revisiting three of the most important chapters in the Bible, beginning today with the “resurrection chapter,” 1 Corinthians 15.
There is only one chapter in the New Testament that mentions death more than 1 Corinthians 15, and that’s Romans 6. Why does the “resurrection chapter” talk about death so much? Because we can’t fully appreciate the great wonder that is the resurrection of Jesus without facing the terrible horror of death. As Paul notes here, death is most certainly an enemy, “The last enemy to be abolished is death.” 1 Corinthians 15:26, and it is an enemy that steals, kills and destroys and, as Hebrews tells us, it is Satan himself who has the power of death (under the sovereignty of God.):
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death Hebrews 2:14-15
I am thinking about death a lot over the past day, because a man who has been hugely influential in my life – Frank Barker Jr. my first pastor that I remember, has died. My family began going to Briarwood Presbyterian church in approximately 1980, when I was 8. It was a large church at the time located just off of highway 280 in the Cahaba Heights area of Birmingham, but – like most churches – it didn’t begin as a large church in a nice building. And, perhaps unlike most pastors in the south, Frank M. Barker Jr., did not come to Jesus early in his life. Reverend Barker was raised in a Christian household, but did not live his young life as a Christian as he was pretty wild by his own description, and had a tendency to drink too much, and even drive while drunk. Shortly after college, he became a pilot in the U.S. Navy, and was stationed at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. On one particular off weekend in the 1950s, he came home to Birmingham where he had a wild weekend with friends, by his description. On his return trip to the Naval base, something remarkable happend:
On his way back to Pensacola, he fell asleep at the wheel, and when the road curved, his car sped onto a rutted-out dirt road. When he finally got the car stopped, the headlights picked up a sign nailed to a tree: “The wages of sin is death.” Source: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/amazing-story-frank-barker-campus-outreach/
In his own words, “I thought, You know what? I think God is trying to tell me something,” he said. “I started trying to straighten up. I felt I’d been so bad that if I was going to get to heaven, I was going to need to be a preacher.” (ibid.,) He started trying to live a more moral life and began to care about God, but he was not yet saved. In fact, by his own words, he “lasted about a week, and the first real temptation in his life to come along, he succumbed to it.” (source: https://briarwood.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/barker_testimony.mp3) He oscillated back and forth between living for God and going back to his life of partying. He was religious and wanted to please God, but he didn’t understand the good news at that point. Barker was a fighter pilot in the Navy, and was serving onboard an aircraft carrier. Every night before bed, he would pray the same rote/ritualized prayer- “God bless mom and daddy, sister and Wiley and the dog. Forgive me for doing all these things, and help me to be different.” One night, he says, he was praying that way, and he had the sense that God was listening to the last part of the prayer – the part about “God help me to be different.” Barker sensed that God was offering to answer that prayer, if it was meant sincerly – and it dawned on Barker that he was actually resisting God, and after this prayer encounter, his life began to change.
Ultimately, Barker enrolled in seminary at Columbia Theological Seminary, and even started preaching at a church in Alabama. One year in, however- he knew something was wrong. He was the preacher, but wasn’t actually sure how to be a Christian. He read John 3:36 in the Bible, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life,” but didn’t actually know HOW to believe in Jesus. He asked a friend of his, an Air Force chaplain, how he could know if he was really a Christian, and the chaplain gave him a tract, and told him to receive “salvation as a gift.” Barker – a seminary graduate – was taken aback and told the chaplain, “God’s not going to just give this thing (salvation) away – you have to work for it!” As he was wrestling through this, he was struck by two Bible verses:
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.
Barker was struck by the second part of Romans 6:23 – that salvation was a GIFT and that it was by grace through faith, and not from works.
I find one part of Frank M. Barker Jr.s testimony fascinating – here it is in his own words:
“I began to realize that I had come to seminary because God had wanted me to, but two, because I had been so bad, that if I was ever going to get to Heaven, I’m going to have to be a preacher or a missionary. And I was trying to earn my way to Heaven. At that point, I put my trust in Christ alone, and my life began to change even more dramatically, and the Bible became a new book to me. And my next thought was, “Isn’t it strange that nobody ever told me that [salvation was a gift.”]….and my next thought after that was, “Isn’t it strange that Martin Luther didn’t know about this – that Luther didn’t know about justification by faith alone.” The reason I said that is because I had just finished reading his commentary on the book of Galatians, and taking a test on it, and making an ‘A” on it. I said, “If he had known that, he would have brought it out in that commentary!” I went back and read the commentary again – it was on EVERY page! And I had underlined it and starred it and never seen it. And I said, “this is incredible! I must have been blind when I read that book. Exactly. And people had told me, but you have to have your ears open and your eyes open. And that accomplished two things. #1 It made me a Calvinist and #2 It gave me an insight that there were many folks in the church – even church leaders – who were like I was – who had simply missed one of the two keys of being a real Christian. You can miss it in one or two places: You can not surrender your will, or you can fail to put your trust in Jesus Christ alone.” (Source: https://briarwood.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/barker_testimony.mp3)
As he says, “I had totally missed that salvation was about grace. I surrendered my will and transferred my trust from me to Christ. When I did that, life began to change dramatically.” (Source: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/amazing-story-frank-barker-campus-outreach)
Pastor Tim Keller, whom you’ve heard me mention many times on this podcast, was friends with Frank Barker, and familiar with this part of his testmony, and he said:
He says, “On every page, I had it underlined; I had it highlighted. There on every page was the gospel, and I hadn’t seen it. It made no difference to me. I didn’t even get it. The penny didn’t drop. It didn’t make a bit of difference. Now it means everything. It has brought my whole life together. It has changed everything. Everybody says, ‘What happened?’ I was born again.”
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
That was the beginning of a life of incredibly fruitful ministry. Reverend Barker wanted to stay in seminary and pursue a Ph.d., but the Presbyterian church asked him to plant a church in Cahaba Heights, an unincorporated suburban area of Birmingham, Alabama. Barker initially refused, but when they persisted – he agreed to help begin the church – but ONLY for a Summer, and thus on June 5, 1960, Briarwood held its first meeting in a storefront in Cahaba Heights, which drew 70 people. Three years later, the church had grown significantly, and opened its location on highway 280, where the first ever meeting of the Presbyterian Church in America was held. My family started attending chuch there in 1980, and I went to elementary school there also. By the time we came to Briarwood, it was well on its way to becoming a mega-church, and one of the largest churches in Birmingham. It was a nice building, located in one of the nicest parts of town, and a lot of very wealthy people in Birmingham called Briarwood their home church. But Frank Barker was not flashy, he was not super-charismatic, and he was not the kind of preacher that most well-to do people usually flocked to. The thing I remember most about Reverend Barker was his humility and his commitment to God’s Word. Barker taught me to appreciate the Word of God and taught me to value God’s Word and taught us that God’s Word was reliable, inerrant and trustworthy. He was not a great preacher in the oratory sense, and I’m not saying that as a slam – even his own daughter said the same thing:
“My father was not a dynamic orator by any means,” “He’d shuffle up to the pulpit and say, ‘Uh, turn in your Bibles to 1 John 3,’ and then quietly read it and start preaching. There was nothing dynamic or big about it.” (Source: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/amazing-story-frank-barker-campus-outreach/) As a kid, I would struggle to listen to sermons and had a healthy dose of ADHD, and my parents would let me read Hardy Boys books instead of listening – something the school librarian did not approve of! And yet, I did listen from time to time, and Reverend Barker also taught our kid’s Bible classes in Vacation Bible school – he led us in singing and taught us the Word, and I loved him for it. He was always kind to me and my family, and I never heard anybody say a cross word about him. There was no scandal – not even a hint of it. He was everything a pastor should be, in my eyes, and I am eternally grateful for him.
For whatever reason, my parents left Briarwood when I began highschool, and went to another church – a Baptist church that I didn’t like quite as much, mostly because the pastor was so different. He was probably a better speaker – and more energetic, but something was different. I missed the humble spirit of Reverend Barker. At some point in college, I believe, I went through a rocky time spiritually, and my dad wanted me to talk to a pastor. Rather than the pastor at the church we were attending, my dad asked Reverend Barker if he would see me. At the time in the early to mid 90s, Briarwood had grown huge – thousands of members literally – and yet Reverend Barker met with me, and counseled me, and genuinely helped me. I remember the main thing he did at the beginning of that meeting: He prayed for me, and I am quite certain God heard and answered that prayer. He was most certainly a man of prayer – not in a flashy, “look at me!” sort of way, but in a humble – “we must depend wholly on God,” sort of way. We need more pastors like reverend Barker.
One of my favorite preacher/writers, Dr. Bryan Chapell, shared a great story about Reverend Barker – a story that almost mirrors my own:
One of the most important events in my life occurred when I went to visit Frank Barker, the senior pastor of a very large church, to ask his advice about a leadership issue. During our lunch in a crowded restaurant I asked him my question. He started to answer and then stopped himself. “You know,” he said, “this is an important issue. Before we talk about it, we need to pray about it.” And right there in the restaurant, in a way that broke into our routine and turned attention away from himself, this pastor with great gifts prayed for God’s help before answering my question. I try to remember his words often: “Before we talk about it, we need to pray about it.”
Bryan Chapell, Ephesians, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009), 197–198.
Frank M. Barker was 89 when he died, and about to turn 90. I understand from my old coach at Briarwood – coach Jeff Young, that Reverend Barker was actively leading 5 different Bible studies – 3 at 6AM!- in his late 80s. Additionally, he was visiting hospitals, teaching 3 different Old Testament courses at the seminary he founded, and also performing weddings, funerals and praying for the sick regularly. What a mighty man of God!! As Coach Young says of him:
“He was also fair, courageous, and steady in his dealings with the culture surrounding him. He never played church politics & he wasn’t influenced by the wrong crowd. During the early years of the civil rights struggles he was an unbiased leader for right even when some people didn’t like it. He was like Brother Bryan (“Religion in Shoes”) in the early years of Birmingham – even patterning a lot of his personal and prayer life and ministry after the life of Jesus as Brother Bryan had.”
I want to close out with the words of Chris Thompson, another mentor to me – who was my first youth pastor – a Jr. high youth pastor to me in the mid 1980s, who is still on staff to this day – 40 years later – at Briarwood. Chris said this about Reverend Barker:
“As he was for so many people, he was my spiritual father. I am sitting at my desk, in my home office, looking at a framed picture of Frank and Barbara Barker, with incredible memories, empty longings and an unexplainable joy as I know his soul is in the presence of his Father. Frank was a man of humility and meekness. I cherish the countless hours that we spent in prayer together and the unbelievable wisdom he gave to many and myself.”
Reverend Barker is gone from this earth, for now – but death does not have the final word on his life- oh no! As Paul says in our chapter today:
54 When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
55 Where, death, is your victory?
Where, death, is your sting?
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 1 Corinthians 15:54-57
Let’s read our chapter.
More on Frank Barker:
Timothy Keller on Frank Barker: the most prominent minister in that group whose name was Frank Barker …
He was probably the most prominent minister. He had a great big church in Birmingham, Alabama. He said, “You know, I don’t want anybody here to get the wrong impression that somehow these guys must have been in terrible churches where you never heard the gospel. Let me tell you my story.” He said, “I was raised in the church, and I wanted to go in the ministry, so I started taking courses at seminary. I took some courses on theology and the Bible.”
Then, for whatever reason, he got into the military. I’m not sure. I think it might have been the Korean War. Anyway, he was brought into the military, and while he was in the military, a chaplain led him to Christ. He told him the gospel of grace. He had never heard it. He said, “This is amazing! This is astonishing! I thought being a Christian was just living a good life, but it’s like having your eyes opened. It’s understanding grace. It’s trusting in Christ. It’s being saved and accepted apart from anything you’ve ever done.” It was amazing to him.
As he was meeting with the chaplain after this, at one point he said, “Chaplain, I want to know why nobody ever, ever, ever told me the gospel. My minister at home didn’t know the gospel. Here’s what I really want to know. Why didn’t Martin Luther know anything about the gospel?” The chaplain said, “Why would you say that?” He said, “I took a course on Martin Luther. In fact, I read his commentary on the Galatians, and there was nothing about the gospel in there.”
The chaplain said, “Now that your eyes have been opened now that you’ve become a Christian, why don’t you go back and read that book again?” Frank was telling us all of this. He said, “I went back and opened that book. There on every page there was the gospel highlighted, underlined, and I hadn’t seen it.” He said, “I want you to know right now there are young men and women growing up in my church under my preaching and they’re not hearing the gospel until the Holy Spirit opens their eyes.”Timothy J. Keller, “Sight for the Blind,” in The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 2014–2015 (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2015), 2 Ki 6:8–23.
Also Tim Keller on Frank Barker:
A friend whom Terry and I both know who tells a great story. His name is Frank Barker and he’s a pastor in Alabama. He tells this great story about how he tried to give his wife self-control. He said when they first got married, his wife was deeply depressed. She went into this dark, deep depression. She was discouraged, and he said, “Boy, I’ll tell you, I counseled her, I did everything I possibly could to help her. Every single day I walked in and I looked at her and I said, ‘Buck up!’ But nothing helped.” (Except he has this old Alabaman accent, so he’d say, “I’d say, ‘Buck up,’ but nothin’ hepped.” Of course he was making fun of himself, and he was essentially saying, “When I was a young man, I thought that self-control kind of existed by itself. I thought it could just be done.”
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
More on Reverend Frank Barker:
Audio of Frank Barker on the founding of Briarwood Presbyterian: https://briarwood.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/barker_testimony.mp3
Bible Memory passage for the month of December: Revelation 5:12, “They said with a loud voice: Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
Happy by Mike Leite https://soundcloud.com/mikeleite
Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0
Free Download / Stream: https://bit.ly/al_ha