Layman: Spreading the faith is 'what we're created to do'
COLLEYVILLE, Texas (BP)--"I'm about to pray and bless the food," a restaurant patron said to the young Hispanic woman who had just delivered his food. "Is there any need in your life I could pray for?"
That patron was not an evangelist or pastor, but an ordinary man with an infectious passion for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with anyone, anywhere, anytime -- Ron Cogburn, president of a consulting firm in Dallas, husband and father, and layman at First Baptist Church in Colleyville, Texas.
Cogburn sends out a weekly e-mail called "The Soul Winner's Diary" in which he shares his own stories and those of others that demonstrate the power of the Gospel to change lives. In his entry for July 17 he wrote about his soul-winning adventure from that same day in a Fry's Electronics store while purchasing a laptop computer:
"The gentleman that helped me was very courteous and proactive in anticipating my questions and concerns. During the entire process, I was looking for the right opportunity to ask him if he was a Christian.
"As we concluded the purchase he placed the computer and accessories in a cart and said, 'Let's take this up front to the cashier and check you out.'
"Well, that was my opportunity. I started off by complimenting him on his professionalism and courtesy and incredible help that he had been to me. I said, 'Robert, I have to ask you, are you a Christian? Do you know Jesus as your personal Savior?'
"He smiled and told me how he was a Christian and had been raised in a Christian home. He and his family had just moved to Grapevine [in the Dallas-Fort Worth area] from Houston. I asked him where he went to church and he said he did not have a new church home yet.
"Well, I invited him to come to First Colleyville and try it out. By this time we were standing in front of the checkout counter. I took out one of my tracts, 'Jesus is Coming, Are You Ready?' and told him that the church number was on the back. He looked at the tract, smiled and said, 'This is really neat.'
"'I want one of those cards or tracts,' a voice piped in from my right. I glanced to see who had said that, and saw the cashier and 5 trainees looking at me like a calf looking at a new gate.
"I turned and said, 'I'll do you one better, I will give everyone a tract.' I placed the one tract on the counter before the watchful group. They stared at it as if it were alive. I read it to them and asked the question. The original voice and face chimed in. 'I'm not ready, and I would like to be!'
"WOW. Jesus was at work. HE had the plan!
"One lady, Casundra, said she would like to pray to receive Christ. It is all about HIM!"
Cogburn has not always been so zealous for the Gospel -- either living it or sharing it. He believes that God went to some extraordinary lengths to rescue him from a destructive path in order to use him as a soul-winner for the Kingdom.
Cogburn grew up in a strict Christian home and went through a very rebellious time as a teen. By all standards, he said he should not have gotten into college, but he did, and graduated from Texas A&M with a civil engineering degree.
While in college, Cogburn became reacquainted with the church and active in the Baptist Student Union and Navigators ministries. In the summer of his sophomore year, he served as a children's camp counselor where he met Kim, whom he would marry the following year. They have been married for 27 years.
After his graduation from college in 1978, Cogburn entered the business world. He developed strong ambitions to become the wealthy, dynamic businessman that the world would call successful. He aspired to become exactly like his boss who was the life of the party, wealthy and powerful. But he also was unfaithful to his spouse, a heavy user of alcohol, with financial success as his only priority.
"I remember telling other people, 'I am going to be him,'" Cogburn said. "During that time, I wanted everything that men get tempted by."
At a Christmas party in 1995, Kim had the opportunity to meet the man Ron wanted to emulate. When they got home that night, she told Ron, "He is an evil man."
Cogburn didn't listen, and continued striving to be just like his boss. "I couldn't see it, but all the time I was getting farther and farther away from God until I was about as far away from Him as anyone can get. It was just all about me. I almost lost my marriage and my family."
But Kim had been praying. "It was as if God had allowed me to see us on down the road," she said. "I started praying, 'God, just do whatever it takes to get Ron back.'" She prayed faithfully for more than a year before things began to happen.
God first got Ron's attention in January 1996 when his boss was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and died four months later. Kim said one thing the boss' death did was stir her and Ron to have frank discussions. "Let me tell you," she said at one point to Ron, "what the Holy Sprit has enlightened me to -- what I know is going to happen to us if things don't change."
"But that wasn't enough to stop me," Cogburn said. "I thought, 'Now is my chance to get that job.'"
A few months later, the Chicago-based company Cogburn worked for informed him that he was to receive the new Jeep Grand Cherokee that had been his boss' company car. Just prior to traveling to Chicago to get the Jeep, he received another phone call telling him not to come. Without any known explanation, the Jeep had been destroyed in a fire.
Cogburn knew that the vehicle's incineration was a little too coincidental. Whether he was ready to effect a change or not, God's hand was working powerfully in his life. In September of that year, Ron went dove hunting with his good friend, Steve Slaughter. While they waited for birds that never appeared, Slaughter spent the hours sharing with Cogburn about how Christ had changed his life.
Shortly thereafter, Cogburn joined a Bible Study Fellowship International group in Colleyville and started hearing God speak to him in a personal way through the Word. "He became more concerned about doing God's will and thinking God's way instead of being so world-oriented and selfish," Kim recounted. In 1998 they moved their church membership to First Baptist Colleyville, where they began growing in their faith and hearing from God in a fresh, new way. Kim said that the events of those years really turned Ron's heart back to the Lord.
But events in 2001 ignited Cogburn's heart for evangelism.
On Father's Day 2001, his daughter's 15-year-old boyfriend was struck by a drunk driver and was not expected to survive. Never before touched by a tragedy such as this, Ron and Kim spent the weeks praying and supporting their daughter and the boy's family through their trial, and God spared the teenager's life.
Cogburn had been led in a supernatural way to sign up for a mission trip that summer to Zambia -- something he would not have chosen to do on his own. In Zambia he had his first witnessing experiences and was able to lead about 75 Zambians to Christ.
Anna Bugbee of Euless, Texas, who was on the Zambian mission trip, at first felt that Cogburn was aloof and not very friendly. Over the course of the trip, she realized that he was there on a mission. "Ron stayed glued to the task he had been called to do," Bugbee recounted. "I soon knew God had allowed Ron to be in my life as the example of commitment he wanted me to learn about, and to become."
After the Zambian mission trip, Ed Human, an evangelist based in Colleyville known for the millions of Gospel tracts he has published and freely distributed, mentored Ron in evangelism. Human's life purpose for evangelism was birthed in the 1960s during the Jesus movement when he met Arthur Blessitt, the man who carried a cross around the world. After 13 years of preaching, Human passed out his very first Gospel tract with Arthur Blessitt on Sunset Strip.
Just as Human remembers being afraid to hand out that first Gospel tract in 1968, Cogburn was scared the first time he went out witnessing with Human. "Sharing the Gospel with strangers in a foreign country is one thing. But doing it in your own country is something else," Cogburn said.
In a Starbucks coffee shop, Human encouraged Cogburn to share the Gospel with the young man behind the counter, and the man prayed to receive Christ. "Ron was excited about it. He was overwhelmed that it was so easy. He couldn't believe that all there was to it was to find out whether or not someone is saved, then tell them how to get saved," Human recounted. "Ron Cogburn is off and running."
Since that time, Cogburn's focus has been sharing the Gospel. "It's what we are created to do," he said. He uses the analogy that being a Christian and not sharing your faith is a lot like having a new convertible and never knowing that you can take the top down. Quoting Jesus in Mark 8:35, Cogburn said, "Only those who throw away their life for My sake and the sake of the good news will ever know what it means to really live."
"Anybody can share their faith. You don't have to do it perfectly, because it isn't you. There is no other question I could ask someone that brings the response I get when I say, 'Jesus is coming. Are you ready?' The Gospel has power."
Cogburn tries to direct every meaningful contact he has with people to find out where they are spiritually, and he exposes them to the Gospel if they have not already received it.
Frank Harber, pastor of First Baptist Colleyville, said, "Ron witnesses to anything that moves" and uses any way he can to communicate the Good News.
Harber credits Cogburn for transforming the deacon body of First Baptist Colleyville from a voting board to a group of leaders who actively serve their congregation, and must give an account at deacon's meetings of their faithfulness to share the Gospel. "When laypeople get a vision like he has, it makes the pastor's job easy." Harber said Ron multiplies himself in the members of FBC.
Back at the restaurant, Cogburn's question to the Hispanic server, "Do you have a need I can pray for?" prompted her to respond, "Well, no, not really." Then meekly she said, "... well, my boyfriend -- my husband. I want to go ahead and get married, but he wants to wait until we can go to Mexico."
"Then I'll pray for you and your husband and your marriage," Cogburn said. As those at the table joined hands, he took her hand and prayed, "God, bless this young lady. God, work in her life to give her the marriage that she wants, and guide her and her husband to You."
Before Ron Cogburn left the restaurant, two more people had learned how to have a personal relationship with Christ, and that they can be ready when He returns.
To receive Ron Cogburn's periodic e-mail, "The Soul Winner's Diary," send a request to RCCogburn@aol.com.