How God blessed me through Elder Mark Burress (1957-2006)

When I was telling how God blessed me through the ministry of Neil Lodge, it occurred to me that it would be wrong if I didn't follow that up with how God blessed me through the ministry of Mark Burress, whom I always affectionately called "Brother Mark," even when I was a heathen reprobate.

I am so thankful for the ministry of Brother Mark.  God used him not only in my life, but in my parents' as well.  You need to understand that we were members of a Primitive Baptist Church and a good many of them are hyper-Calvinistic, even if they don't like the term.  They weren't always that way, but it has become ingrained in many of the churches (though it needs to be said, this is not necessarily true of all of them).  My parents embraced a form of hyper-Calvinism but God used Mark to bring them out of it.

Elder Mark Burress was himself a hyper-Calvinist when he came to be my parents' pastor in Abilene, TX.  I think the year was 1987 or thereabouts.  But he started reading the sermons of Charles Spurgeon and fell in love with the solid, Biblical, gospel-saturated, Christ-centered, God-glorifying Calvinism that he found there.  It changed him forever.  In God's providence, as Brother Mark slowly came out of theological error, he was able to bring my parents along with him (I still remember my parents debating the meaning of Mark 16:16 on the way to church one Sunday!).

It may seem strange to you to hear about people coming out of hyper-Calvinism but that was our experience.  (I once heard John Piper say that the debate over hyper-Calvinism, which I was wrestling with, was just a tempest in a teapot.  But I was in the teapot, and so to me it was a tempest!). I am thankful for Brother Mark faithfully teaching the truth to us and grounding us in  Biblical doctrine.

As I said though, I was a heathen reprobate when all this was happening.  I was very rebellious and wicked.  One of my earlier memories is of Brother Mark leaning his head into the car where I was sitting and telling me, "Young man, rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry," quoting 1 Sam. 15:23.  It was sadly very appropriate.

I am thankful though that he didn't give up on me (and neither did my parents).  One day, Brother Mark asked me to go with him to the local Christian bookstore.  I didn't realize that he was wanting to buy a book for me.  It was A. W. Pink's The Sovereignty of God.  Now I was 15 years old I think.  I'm not sure I would buy that book for the kind of teenager that I was, but he did!  Praise God that he did.

I started to read it just to please him, frankly.  As I began I couldn't believe how boring a book could be.  It was painful just to read a sentence.  But I persevered, as I said, just to please Brother Mark.  

Things changed when I got to the chapter on the sovereignty of God in salvation.  I am aware that you can't always know when God regenerates a person, but I think I know exactly the moment it happened for me, even where I was standing.  It was like the lights came on.  Everything Pink was talking about suddenly made sense.  From being grinding it all suddenly became gripping.  I couldn't put the book down and devoured the rest of it like a novel.  I wanted to know about this sovereign God Pink was writing about.  My life was changed.  

God is sovereign but God uses means.  Pink believed that and the Bible teaches it.  Mark Burress was the means God used to put that book in my hands by which my world was turned upside down.  Man, am I so grateful to him for that.

He didn't stop there, but went on to mentor me in other ways, and became for me my father in the ministry.  He taught me to read good books.  He gave me a love for the Puritans.  He showed me what ministry was about.  I would spend many hours with him, hours I treasure to this day.  I am deeply thankful to the Lord for the impact he had on my life.

Thank God for the people he puts in our lives.  Isn't it amazing that we can be means of grace to others?  It's not as if God needs us, but he graciously allows us to be fellow workers with him in his kingdom.  What a privilege and joy!  May the Lord grant all of us the desire to be a means of grace in the lives of others.  Put a good book in someone's hand.  Be an example.  Speak the promises and truths of the gospel in another person's life.  Be like Mark Burress.  


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