One godly teen dies; hundreds find new life

HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Nathan Johnson dreamed of starting a revolution for Christ.

“Today through His mighty power and glorious grace, God has brought me back to Him,” Johnson wrote in his diary in August 2005. “He has enlightened the eyes of my heart to His will in which He has with no doubt called me.... His will for me is to radically impact my school for Him.

But before he could see the revolution become a reality, Johnson's life was cut short by an automobile accident. Johnson was on his way to football practice at Beech High School in Hendersonville, Tenn., on the morning of July 28 when his Jeep Cherokee drifted across the center line, striking a cement truck almost head-on. He was pronounced dead shortly after a LifeFlight helicopter transported him to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s emergency room in Nashville.

Despite his early death, friends and family say that God is using the tragedy to make Johnson’s dream a reality.

Nearly 300 people have professed faith in Christ in the aftermath of Johnson's accident, including more than 30 at his funeral July 31, reported Jeff Lovingood, student minister at Long Hollow Baptist Church where Johnson was active in the youth ministry. Another 16 teens prayed to receive Christ two nights following the funeral at the Wednesday night youth gathering, with more than 400 in attendance, Lovingood said.

"We're comforted by the fact that even in his death, God is at work," Nathan's father Chris Johnson said. "He really did want to be a part of starting a revolution, and our prayer is that that revolution will continue on."

Johnson's spiritual journey began at age 7 when he got off the school bus one day and informed his mother, Kathy, that he had been thinking about Jesus and was ready to commit his life to Him. In the years following that day, Nathan realized that every gift he possessed represented an opportunity to tell others about his faith.

One of Johnson's gifts was his football ability, which he displayed as a kicker and punter for Beech. As a sophomore last season, Johnson kicked a 45-yard field goal to beat cross-town rival Hendersonville High School. This year his kickoffs were going through the uprights consistently and he was making field goals of 45-50 yards.

Some were comparing Johnson to University of Tennessee kicker James Wilhoit and speculating that he would be an NCAA Division I kicker, said Lovingood, who also serves as a volunteer assistant football coach at Beech.

But Nathan saw his athletic ability as a tool to win teammates to Christ, his father Chris said.

"He saw that God had gifted him from an athletic perspective so that he could be a part of the football team and win teammates to Christ," said Chris Johnson, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Hendersonville and editor-in-chief of adult resources at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In his journal, Nathan had written, "God has given me the gift of kicking so that I can start by winning my teammates on the football team to Christ."

During his freshman year, he led two players to faith in Christ during football camp and later led a senior to faith, his father recounted.

Lovingood said Nathan’s impact extended beyond his teammates.

"He impacted the coaches," Lovingood said. "The head coach said that in terms of living for Christ he had never seen a kid who was an example like he was."

In recognition of Johnson's influence, the football team placed his football tee, a football signed by all his teammates and a practice jersey in his locker and sealed it with Plexiglas.

Inside the front cover of this year’s team program, which is sold at every game, is a picture of Johnson in his football uniform with a message dedicating the season to him. At the top of the page is the Apostle Paul’s declaration from Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” At the bottom of the page is Jesus’ command from Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.”

The final page in the program has another photo of Johnson in his uniform with the quote from his journal about impacting his school for Christ. At the bottom of the page is a quote from Johnson’s grave marker: “Dude, Heaven is sweet. See you there ...”

Johnson also used his musical ability to share his faith, playing guitar and keyboards and singing in a Christian band called "Through a Glass," named from 1 Corinthians 13:12 where Paul writes, “For now we see through a glass darkly.” The band had opened for the popular Christian music group Kutlass and played in front of more than 2,000 people in Arlington, Texas. They also presented the Gospel regularly at performances.

On the night Johnson died, the band was scheduled to play at Rocketown, a popular Nashville music venue, where record company representatives were planning to hear them. After the accident, the group initially thought it should cancel the show but went ahead at the urging of Johnson's mother.

That night Through a Glass opened with one of their regular numbers but then shared their testimonies, presented the Gospel and gave an invitation. Afterward they led in a time of worship. Four people responded by professing faith in Christ. One of the employees at Rocketown said he had never seen anything like it at that venue.

"I think one reason he had so much influence for the Gospel was just how he related to people," Philip Revell, a member of Through a Glass, said. "People knew he wasn't fake. People knew he was for real, and you could really see the passion that he had for Christ and the passion he had for those people."

Revell said Johnson had such a burden for lost people to come to know Christ that he would weep for them in prayer.

Chris Johnson noted that his son's passion for evangelism extended past football and music to everyday life. After hearing of Johnson's death, one girl recounted to Chris Johnson her first encounter with Nathan when he said, "Hi, my name is Nathan Johnson. Do you know Jesus?"

A little more than a week before his death, Johnson called his father late one night and excitedly announced, "Dad, I just led this 14-year-old to Christ." Chris Johnson added that among others Nathan had led to Christ recently are people he met on a spring break trip to Florida and the friend of a cousin.

John Revell, leader of a discipleship group that Johnson participated in for the year prior to his death, said Johnson had a deep desire to know God and help others know Him too.

"Nathan was a vital part of my weekly discipleship group that included 11 other teenage guys," Revell, who is the father of Philip Revell, said. "For the last year he was over at our house every Tuesday night. He had an insatiable desire to know God's Word, to apply it and to reflect his relationship with the Lord to the people around him."

Johnson's desire to bring other people into a saving knowledge of Jesus was reflected at his funeral July 31, which more than 2,000 people attended. After a series of testimonies by family and friends, Johnson's older brother Andrew urged attendees to trust Christ as their Savior and be assured that they will join Nathan in heaven one day.

"If Through a Glass became the most popular band in the whole world, if he had all the success in kicking and ... just all the good times he had hanging out with friends, none of the joy he could have experienced on this earth even comes close to the joy that he's experiencing now," Andrew Johnson said.

"There are people in this room that I know if you died right now, you would not go to heaven. I'm just here right now saying that I want you to know this love that Nathan had. I want you to come to know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior," he said.

Lovingood followed Andrew Johnson with a Gospel presentation, and 27 people responded to the invitation, including several of Johnson's football teammates.

"My friend Nathan would be very upset if I didn't do this right here," Lovingood said as he offered the invitation to trust Christ. "The question is today: Do you know the love of Jesus in your heart? Have you asked Him to come into your heart to forgive you of your sins? Do you have a relationship with Jesus?"

In the aftermath of Johnson's funeral, professions of faith have continued, and several local churches report that they baptize people weekly who say they were saved at the funeral, Chris Johnson said. Lovingood said teenagers at Long Hollow have been saved at several programs since the funeral.

Despite the fact that the family is "deep in grief," they are "thrilled that his life and his passion to see people come to know the Lord Jesus is continuing even in his death," Nathan’s father said.

Lovingood noted that the harvest of souls from Nathan’s life seems to be growing every day.

"It was just amazing how God was working in his life. He just had a great heart. That's why he had such an impact," Lovingood said.


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