Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Competition Syndrome

Do you have children? If not, do you spend much time around them?

Listen to them, especially siblings; they often display something I call the "One-Up Syndrome", otherwise known as "trumping". Whenever my youngest daughter talks about doing, reading, going, or accomplishing something, her older sister has this incredible need to "one-up" her.

It is an embarassment to say that preachers are no different.

We are fiercely results-oriented, because we've been taught that a preacher who experiences little or no results in his/her ministry is scarcely worth walking across the street to listen to. Therefore, we---as preachers ourselves---have bred an entire generation (or two or three) of preachers who have virtually no self-identity when it comes to preaching style, especially in the Pentecostal genre of preaching. (There are two exceptions that immedietly come to mind, but they are the only two anomalies I can think of.)

It has troubled me for quite some time now that this "competitive" mindset is eating through our ranks like some hidden cancer, yet as obvious as it is to every one of us, few dare to tackle it head-on. We get up and preach---in our best Pentecostal voice, no less!---that "God didn't call me to be so-and-so", yet we try our best to preach like them, because they are the marquee speakers of the hour.

Someone recently made a statement that a particular preacher "...can outpreach almost anyone with his age and/or experience". In response, my mind immediately asked the question, "When did delivering a message from God become a competitive sport?"

It is not only preachers, but musicians, singers, choirs, youth pastors, outreach directors, etc. that struggle with this beast. This elusive, insidious spirit of competition is weaving its way through the ranks of Pentecost, eating us from the inside out. It causes discord, bitterness, jealousy, envy, and ultimately lying. Remarks are made, or tallies given, that are far from the truth, yet preachers (and the others as mentioned above) feel it necessary to make such statements with scarcely a thought because, from all we've been trained to believe, "results" are all that matters.

This past weekend, I was privileged to minister in a small church here in the South Texas region. What an incredible move of the Holy Spirit we had...not because of me, but (truth be told) probably in spite of me. I didn't take revival---or a move of the Spirit---with me, but rather, I was blessed because there were hungry souls in that service who worshipped God's Presence into the place.

I didn't actually "preach" (as far as taking a text, etc), but only spoke for a short time from my heart on what I felt God was leading me to say; however, in my closing comments, I made the statement: "We don't have an altar full of people seeking God, no one has received the Holy Spirit, and we haven't seen any miraculous healings today. However, this service has been what I consider a 'success' because God came into this house. If anyone leaves without whatever they came needing today, they've no one to blame but themselves, because the Giver of gifts is here today."

I'm sure there are those who will consider me haughty, pompous, arrogant, or worse; however, I have learned---through painful experience---that God is not impressed with my "works", nor with my "results".

When I step into a church, my goal for that particular service is to connect with God, to usher His Presence into the place. I cannot meet anyone's needs, answer anyone's prayer, or calm anyone's storm. But if I can somehow tap into the Majesty of the Almighty, and connect people with God through music, song, worship, or the Word, He can do whatever needs to be done.

If we can ever grasp this concept---that it really isn't about us, or our so-called "results---then God can move through us, and do what needs to be done in every service.

I am convinced that this is what is separating us from the Acts of the apostles.

They would do anything for the cause of Christ; we, on the other hand, will do practically anything for the promotion of Self.

I'm sure this particular post won't win the "Most Popular Blog" award. However, if we don't somehow attack---and crucify---this spirit of competition that rules our ministerial life, we are every one of us doomed to accomplish nothing for His Kingdom.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Wounded Church

This post stemmed from Ron Wofford's outstanding commentary on WordShare regarding "The abomination we never preach about". This is not to take anything from him or his words; they are truly worth reading...

I have watched this forum for a couple weeks now (having been gone for some time), and the fallout of the advertising resolution has left me wondering if the passing of this resolution really added any damage to a body that was obviously already fractured and wounded.
Isa 1:5-6 "...the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment."

I preached a message from this text some time back entitled The Wounded Church; this passage in Isaiah is, sadly, directed at Israel, God's own chosen, yet from His observation of them, they were filled with brokenness, wounds, injuries of all sorts. The gist of the message God had lain on my heart for that particular time: it is small wonder we are seeing such limited power in our churches now, because a body that is wounded, full of injuries, soreness, and putrefaction can scarcely be expected to operate in a strong, healthy manner.

I suppose it would be vain for me to attempt to share online what I felt so powerfully in that particular service, but let me at least share a handful of what the Spirit gave me on that weekend:

"Wounds" refer to an injury that severs, such as a deep cut from a sword or a knife; the only way a "wound" can heal is if it is wrapped tightly ("bound up") and the flesh begins to heal itself. This is much the same as our modern-day "stitches"; they do not actually heal the wound, but merely serve to bring the divided parts back together so that the body---and the blood flowing through it---will regenerate and heal itself.

"Bruises" refers to an injury beneath the surface. This is an injury that may never break the skin, but is a result of a direct (or indirect) blow that damages blood vessels and tissue underneath. The result is a mottled, discolored patch on the surface that is caused by a blood clot inside. While a bruise, at first glance, may seem to be more of a nuisance than a bona-fide "injury", the fact remains that the hurt is very real. Not only that, but bruises often take far longer to heal because they are so often overlooked or ignored. However, anyone who has ever experienced the pain of a deep bruising can testify that all it takes is an inadvertent bump from someone to bring the throbbing pain back to reality. An anointing of oil applied directly to the bruised area was used to restore blood flow to the clotted area, as well as to relieve the pain.

"Putrefying sores" are open injuries that have been left untreated. Today we would refer to these as gangrenous, or rotting. The only way to treat these was with direct cleansing, usually a very painful process that removed the dead or dying surface tissue, in order to allow new tissue underneath to grow and restore itself.

I suffered an injury during my time in Desert Storm, and as a result, every morning for two weeks, I had to allow the medics to scrub---with a stiff, unyielding brush---that open wound before they would apply the ointment and wrap it tightly to protect it against the grit, sand, and other contamiants of the atmosphere. I am not ashamed to say that I sat in that metal chair every morning with tears silently running down my face; the medic was always apologetic, yet he and I both understood that, without the scrubbing, without the removal of the previous day's scabbing and congestion, the underlying new flesh would be unable to breath, to grow, to heal.

The wounds that have afflicted our movement are not the result of the passing of one particular issue. If anything, that particular decision only served to jar the injuries that have been underlying for some time. The pain some have felt, as a result of seeing others walk away from certain truths or standards, has long been throbbing within, yet these hurts have gone unnoticed and/or unannounced, perhaps because---as with any physical bruise---it seemed like it would heal itself if just given time.

It has not.

If anything, the wounded body, which is the UPCI, has been allowed to remain fractured, broken, hurting. It is as if we choose to be satisfied with a limited amount of strength and power, rather than to take the necessary steps for healing to occur. Such steps require pain and sacrifice which we count as unneccesary for us to continue our supposed mission.

Am I saying that one side should concede to the other? That one opinion is right, and another wrong? That one should apologize for the division, and the other should feel smugly justified?

Absolutely not.

This body did not wound itself; we are a part of the Body of Christ, and God is not into self-mutilation. The wounds have been the result of a calculated attack by an enemy that is insidious, hateful, and ruthless in its onslaught against the Church. Yet, instead of recognizing the enemy, and joining forces to combat his assault, we have instead chosen to turn against each other, allowing the wounds to further decay, hurt, and degenerate. As a result, we further weaken the Body, which now causes us to be satisfied with "good church" instead of "apostolic power".

There needs to be a prayer among us, a prayer for healing within the body. I cannot---and will not---say that one "side" is right, and the other "side" is wrong; we are brethren, joined to one Body, united by the blood of Jesus Christ, yet that blood flow seems to have been stymied, and the healing process is slowing to a stop. And until the body is allowed to come together and be united in bonds of strength and healing, I fear that we will never truly see a demonstration of what God can actually do with a sound, strong, body that is whole.

I do not believe the UPCI is the Body of Christ; I do believe that it is a part of that Body. And if there are those who feel so strongly against a particular issue---whether it be advertising on television, or something else entirely---that they feel the need to withdraw from one particular organization, I choose to remain in fellowship with them, and to allow them to remain in fellowship with me (hoping they choose to do so) that the Body---as a whole---will be strengthened by our unity, and not weakened by name-calling, side-choosing, or misunderstood motives.

Despite the doomsday prophets saying that modern society is too far gone, too decadent, too filthy to ever experience an apostolic revival, I believe that America can---and will---be turned upside down by a Church that is strong in its beliefs, sound in its doctrine, and unified in its vision to reach the lost.

We believe God can heal our bodies; is it time, once again, for the cry to be "Physician, heal thyself" ?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Whatever Happened To Lingering?

Recently, I had the pleasure of breaking bread with a fellow minister; we sat in the restaurant for close to 3 hours, enjoying our time of fellowship and getting better acquainted. It was merely a time of fellowship, a time for he and I to get to know each other a bit better, yet it lasted almost three full hours.

A couple weeks ago, I met another friend at a well-known coffee house; we sat there over a cup of coffee and killed two hours. The only reason we parted ways was because we both had kids in school, waiting to be picked up.

It is not uncommon, in Pentecostal churches at least, for fellowship to last upwards of an hour after service has ended. Ironically, we'll stand around in the foyer (or parking lot) talking for a half-hour about where we're going to go fellowship for the next hour and a half.

I can enjoy a meal with my family, and when the last bite is finished, and the last plate pushed away with a contented sigh, sit there and continue the conversation for hours. And this is before it dawns on me (or someone else) that the livingroom furniture is more comfortable so "why don't we go on in there and talk for a spell?"

So why do we have such problems lingering in the presence of God? Whatever happened to lingering?

I can recall those services where the glory of God seemed to fall right close to the end of the altar service. No, nothing spectacular may have occurred during the course of the service, and there may have been no miraculous in-filling of the Spirit to an unsaved person, but there was a "lingering" that called us to just hang around for a few minutes longer. No rush to get to the restaurants, no hurry to get the kids in bed (although chances are, they'd go home and dawdle about that, anyway), no thoughts of 5:00AM coming early so I need to rush home and get to bed...

No, there was just that quiet, drawing Spirit that called us to just hang around...don't rush out, don't be in a hurry to leave. It was similar to that comforting feeling of hanging around the table after Thanksgiving dinner, or savoring a cup of coffee with a friend.

What a Friend we have in Jesus...

So why don't I prolong my time with Him?

What has happened to those services where we want to hang around, where we're more interested in what's happening right there in the sanctuary of God? Is it maybe because we've stopped realizing what a sanctuary His Presence really is? Is it possible that we've become so engrossed with everything else in life that we cannot even slow down to realize that, in His Presence, there's fullness of joy?

I know that I'm not the only one affected by this malady of misdirection, but I cannot change anyone other than myself. I am responsible for my own relationship with God, and the words that I write this evening are directed at my own heart. Call it introspection, if you will, but I have come to realize how precious His presence is to me.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine...

Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear...

There is absolutely nothing like the Presence of God, and it is in those times that we stand in His Glory and majesty that it becomes almost overwhelming to realize that, one of these days, if we remain faithful to Him, we will enjoy that inexplicable peace for all eternity. It is more than the human mind can fathom.

So why don't I linger more? Why am I always in such a hurry to get things done, to move on to the next service, the next weekend, the next midweek Bible study?

Why is it that suddenly---in the last few years, I suppose---that life has become so demanding? I have said for years, and will continue to believe, that those whom the enemy knows he cannot turn back, he will try to turn aside. If Satan cannot get a child of God to turn back to a life of sin, then his next biggest threat is to get them distracted, looking in all directions but the one that really matters.

With all of our calendars, Day-Timers, planners, pocket PC's, etc, we have managed to schedule our time so much more efficiently that we have almost scheduled God out of the picture. Pardon me if this sounds abrupt, but are we guilty of "penciling God in for an hour on Friday"? What would happen to my day---stop and think about this concerning your own schedule---if I actually got lost in the spirit of prayer and fellowship with God, and spent eight full hours with Him, instead of rushing about doing everything I'm trying to do? Would the world collapse? Would the church go bankrupt?

Or would I discover God in a way that I have yet to know Him? Would I become more closely acquainted with Him, as I did with my minister friend over a three-hour lunch a few days ago?

We need a revival of lingering in our services. I realize that we cannot force God's hand, we cannot make His Spirit sweep through our altar services, causing us to want to hang around. Pardon me for being a bit blunt, but I wonder sometimes if God desires fellowship more than we do? Is it possible that I leave Him standing there wondering where I rushed off to?

"Could ye not tarry one hour?"

Is He still asking me the same question that He posed to His other disciples?

Calvary To A Child

Some time ago, I volunteered to take some old audio cassettes of sermons and preaching and convert them over to MP3 files for a friend of mine. He had discovered these old tapes in rummaging around through his attic, and thought to just discard them (attics, time, and mud wasps take their toll on old cassette tapes) but when I discovered his intention, I stepped up and offered to do this for him.

The job is not difficult, merely time-consuming; plug a cassette tape into the deck, and start recording. Most of the time, I have the volume muted so I'm not distracted by the progess of the recording until the annoying "ker-chunk" of the tape deck lets me know that the tape has reached it's end. I admit that I have probably missed a lot of good material by keeping the sound muted while these tapes are in the process of being recorded.

I have, though, uncovered some preaching gems in these boxes (which is why I volunteered to do it in the first place). Some of these tapes are by men who are/were looked at as giants in our movement, great men of God; some are from years ago, delivered by men who, sadly, are no longer with us, either because of natural or spiritual death. And so this morning, while sitting here at my computer, I kept the volume turned on (albeit at a very low level) while I continued working on my computer.

I'm glad I did.

The husband-wife team who were involved in this particular message are not known as "giants" of our movement. They are childrens' evangelists. It's not a real glamorous ministry, and one that is sometimes viewed as a "cute little thing" rather than being a bona fide ministry. And that in itself is a crying shame, for children are the future generation, and anyone who gives up the so-called limelight of ministerial politics to give themselves to reach young people is probably more of a giant in God's eyes than a lot of those oft-proclaimed "great preachers".

I've listened to a lot of preaching tapes, heard a lot of great "sermons" about God, about the Cross, about the blood of Jesus, and about the saving grace of God. I've heard a lot of good material just in the handful of these tapes that I've listened to thus far, and have little doubt that I'll hear some more before I'm finished.

However, this morning, because a husband and wife commited themselves to reaching children with this message, I saw Calvary in a whole new light.

Calvary from a child's perspective...

Children don't understand why Jesus had to die. Children can't comprehend that, because of the mistake of one man and one woman, we are all born into a life of sin, helpless to change ourselves. They don't understand the word redemption, nor the concept of grace, or the idea of spiritual adoption. The blood of Jesus, to a child, is something that probably should require a Band-Aid, not something to be sung about...

Children look at life so differently, with such innocence, and---because of a tape that I listened to this morning---I finally understood (I think) why the concept of salvation is so difficult for them at times.

Why did Jesus have to die?

He didn't do anything wrong. He made blind people see. He helped deaf people hear again. He touched crippled arms and legs and feet and made them all better. He loved everyone. He helped others. He taught people how to live better, to be nicer to others. He made bad people good. He was never mean or rude. He never told kids to go away and leave him alone. He always had time for children. He always had time for everyone, it seems like.

So why did He have to die? And why did those people do such terrible things to Him?

In today's society, much is said about the terrible effect that social trauma can have on a child. Witnessing parent's argue or fight; watching the effects that drugs and alcohol have on family members; abuse in all shapes and forms; these all take their toll on the hearts and minds of our children.

Can you imagine what a child must have thought while witnessing Calvary's cruelty? Imagine the child that once had been taken into Jesus' arms, sat on His lap, used as an object lesson to a bunch of arguing grown-ups...Can you fathom the shock and horror as he now watches Jesus struggle to draw another breath? Can you see the tears streaming down dusty little faces of children who had once laughed and ran in His footsteps, but now their eyes are wide with fear, not understanding why this kind man---who had always been so nice to everyone around him---was now hanging on a Roman cross, with crowds screaming at him, spitting on him, laughing at him?

I can't imagine it either.

But for one brief little moment this morning, I was taken back to the horror of Calvary, and saw it through the innocent eyes of a little child. And I sat here and I cried.

Sometimes we think we have it all figured out: God's plan of redemption, the purpose of the incarnation of deity into humanity, the sacrificial Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the restoration of fellowship between God and His own creation. We quote scriptures from Old and New Testament alike, pointing to why all this happened, and we have all the understanding of what God intended from the beginning of time. And we feel smug in our confidence that we have the answers, and having those answers makes our salvation that much nicer.

God take me back to Calvary's hill, but let me look at it from the innocence of a child's eyes. Let me see the horror, the agony, the cruelty beyond imagination, and let me---as a child---wonder again:

"Why did you have to die? Did I do something wrong?"


Friday, August 03, 2007

Daddy's Tears

Had to take my youngest daughter to the dentist this morning.

Although I'm going to reveal something that might, in the future, be a bit of an embarrassment to her, I'm only sharing this to validate the point that I want to make. Please don't feel that I'm being a cruel, heartless father for "telling on" my child; after all, it's something that many a child has to deal with.

She has had a problem with thumb-sucking, from infanthood. She grew tired real quickly of a pacifier; it would fall out in the middle of the night, and when she couldn't find it, she would wake us all with her wailing. Mom or Dad would groggily go and fetch the pacifier, plug it back in, she would drift back off to sleep with a contented whimper, only to have it happen all over again.

The problem is, this "addiction" didn't go away when she turned 2...or 3...or 7...or even 8. It has become a subconscious gesture, a security thing; most of the time, she doesn't even realize she's got her thumb in her mouth until Daddy says "Get your thumb out of your mouth!"

We've tried everything short of jalapeno pepper juice. (The only reason we refused that old trick is because of the danger of her getting pepper on the rest of her digits, then reaching up to rub her eye. NOT fun!) But it didn't matter what we tried; nothing worked. Not threats, not mittens, not even that nasty-tasting stuff made to stop nail-biting and thumb-sucking. Oh, it slowed her down for a day or so, but---by her own admission---she gradually got to where the taste didn't bother her, and before long, she was just as bad as ever.

We tried rewarding her. Wouldn't work.

We tried grounding her from certain treats (No bubble gum until you quit sucking your thumb). Still had no effect.

It was a subconscious thing, that she really had little or no control over.

Finally, during a routine office visit with the dentist, he mentioned to her (and daddy, of course) about the damage that thumb-sucking would do. He gently cautioned her about it, encouraged her to try to stop, then quietly mentioned to me that, as a last resort, there was a device that could be installed in the soft palate that would prevent the thumb from "resting" where it normally does.

"It's actually a subconscious habit they develop, sort of a security thing, and when they can't 'seat' the thumb there in that spot, it feels unnatural, and that encourages them to stop." was his explanation. What did I know, other than the fact that nothing else had worked.

So we went to the dentist today.

She's been facing this date with both dread and anticipation. On the one hand, she knows it will be a struggle to give up what has become almost second-nature to her, yet on the other hand, she wants so desperately to stop a habit that she knows is unhealthy, and the source of ridicule from other kids her age. She wants to be looked at as a "little lady" and not a "baby", but the pull of what has always provided her that tiny bit of security...not an easy prison to break free of.

Words can't describe how agonizing it was for me to watch them install this device. Granted, my daughter has earned her nickname "Drama Queen" for her melodramatics, but a parent knows when their child is genuinely hurting, or when they're just wanting some extra attention. Although I'm sure that a big part of her discomfort was the trauma of having some foreign fixture in her mouth, I also know that the pain of having it fastened to her teeth was very real. I know that the spacers they had to set caused her severe discomfort, and I know that this appliance---helpful though it is---is not comfortable, and certainly having it shoved into the roof of her mouth wasn't fun.

I sat there and watched, and I'll give my daughter credit: she cried silently.

Usually she lets the tears flow freely, and has no problem letting everyone around her know that she's unhappy. But today, she tried her best to be brave and quiet about it.

She cried without making a sound.

As she lay on her back in that dentists' chair, I watched as her little tummy heaved with silent sobs. I watched as her little feet crossed and uncrossed, as her hands gripped the arms of the chair to keep herself from interfering with the doctor. And I confess, a tear trickled from the corner of my eye. I couldn't, and wouldn't, stop it; that was my baby girl that was enduring the pain and stress of being "manhandled".

The dentist is one of the best I've ever met, and I know he was not being rough with her, but...oh, did I ever want to rush to my daughter's rescue, snatch her out of that chair, tell him "Just forget it!" and take her home where I could sugar-coat that thumb and make it even better. Anything to stop the pain and trauma.

But I knew...

I knew this was for the best for my child.

I knew that this was designed to help set her free of something that she could not do on her own.

I realized that, as gentle as that doctor was trying to be, there was a certain amount of discomfort that my child, my precious little girl, would have to encounter in order for this to succeed.

And I knew that this dentist knew what he was doing. I trusted him with my child's welfare, to take care of her, even though it might look (from my perspective) that he was not.

Daddy shed some tears today, even though I wasn't the one in the dentist's chair.

I cried for the pain and hurt that my child was having to endure.

And it dawned on me...

While we're being manhandled by the world, while we're enduring the pain, having things forced into our lives that make no sense, God is wiping away tears from His own eyes. Oh, the enemy would have us believe that, while we are being subjected to his evil devices, his assault on us, that God has turned His back to us, that He is unconcerned with our hurts, our confusion, our dismay.

But as a father who wept for my child today, who watched her silently endure something that, really, she's still too young to fully understand, I realize now that my Father loves me even more than I can comprehend.

He gets no pleasure out of my struggles; He gets no joy from my being broken. I believe when the ointment in my broken vessel is spilled out, His tears mingle with it. He hurts when we hurt.

But He knows what is best.

And in spite of the tears, He allows us to endure the hardships, the discomfort, the times of confusion, hurt, dismay. Because He knows that in the end, we will stand taller and have no cause to be ashamed of who we are.

I just went and hugged my little girl again.

Told her how proud I was of her for being so brave and doing so good in the dentist's chair. She doesn't understand exactly why I'm so proud of her.

But I am.

One of these days, I hope to get a hug like that from a Father who's proud of me, too.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Servant of All?

I bought a book several years ago that I still have yet to read all the way through; the title was captivating, however:

Descending Into Greatness

I remember mentioning the title in one of my bible college classes, and a couple of guys popped off and laughingly said, "How do you descend into greatness?" It is, indeed, a mindset that many men---of all ages---are completely unfamiliar with. Jesus, however, upon hearing the disciples argue amongst themselves about who would be the greatest, told them quite simply, "Whosoever would be the greatest shall be servant of all."

The idea of servanthood is so foreign to us all.

Here, I believe, though, is the root of the problem: We have no problem serving Jesus; we have no problem submitting to His authority and lordship, and recognizing His place in the Kingdom. The disciples did not argue with Him about who would be the greatest in the kingdom; they argued amongst themselves. They recognized Him as the ringleader, the Boss, the one who set the pace (yet still didn't fully recognize Who He really was), but they had little regard for one another in the kingdom.

We have no problem recognizing our place in the Kingdom in relation to Christ. Our problem is recognizing our place in relation to others who are involved in the kingdom, whom we consider our peers, or even our subordinates, our lesser brethren.

"Servant of all"...

I believe this is a large part of the dying process, the crucifying of self so that others might take preeminence among us.

"...submitting yourselves one to another..."

" honor preferring one another..."

" subject one to another..."

" lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves..."

I have no problem saying, "Not my will, but thine, Lord..." but it might not be so easy to say that to my neighboring pastor. It might not come so easily off my tongue on the floor of a conference business session, when I'm convinced I'm right, and my brother is the one responsible for disunity, and not me.

"Servant of all..."

Hard words, indeed, to swallow.

Much could be written about this short little phrase, but it speaks volumes in and of itself. And if we would see Jesus in our midst, we must learn to live by this standard.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"And Enoch walked with God..."

What an incredible eulogy; what a thing to be remembered for.

I woke this morning, and as I lay here in my bed talking with God, this passage came to my mind. Unashamedly, I confess that tears welled up in my eyes as I wondered what might be said of me after my passing.

Would it matter if folks said "He was a great father, a loving husband, a preacher of the gospel..."? Would that be a legacy to leave my children, and their children?

Or would it be the greater good to have someone tell my girls, "Your daddy walked with God, and God just took him on home."?

The recent passing of Lady Bird Johnson caused many great orators, politicians, public figures, etc. to stand and shower her family with words of comfort and encouragement, telling of all the wonderful things that she had done, how much she had given, what a great woman she had been throughout her life; one major newspaper blared the headline "Heaven is a sweeter place now", quoting a line from one of the speakers at the funeral.

Were all the major figures in the world to line up to say great things about me after my death, what could be more stirring than to have someone say, of a truth, "He walked with God"?

Much has been discussed---and not only in recent days, but for many years, I suppose---concerning "the greatest among us". This is not original with the United Pentecostal Church constituency, because even the disciples, while walking in lockstep with Jesus Christ Himself, argued amongst themselves as to who would be the greater. I can almost see the bemused look in the eyes of the Lord as He heard the murmurings of their heart, the angry whispers of His faithful followers, each setting out in his own mind where his place in the new kingdom would be.

Then Jesus blows it all out of the water by asking them, privately, "What were you guys discussing back there?" Mark's recording of this incident tells us that "they held their peace; for...they had disputed...who should be the greatest." Here are these guys talking about who's the best, the greatest, the most spiritual, the most captivating, the most anointed...and suddenly Jesus brings them crashing back to reality by taking a child in His arms, and teaching them a lesson in humility and selflessness.

We have preached (and I say "we" because I know that not only have I, but I know of several other ministers who have been preaching and saying the same things) in recent times that "It's not about us; it's about Him." but somehow I am afraid that we still don't get it. And I'm preaching to myself more than anyone else, because I know how fragile my human ego is. We realize---I really believe we do---that Jesus is the focus of our attention, adoration, and worship, and we willingly give that, but then somehow, when God allows us a little bit of honor through His Name, we get this idea that we've got a special place in the Kingdom.

Humility, selflessness, child-like's almost diametrically opposed to where we are today. We are not bad people, just as the disciples of Christ were not; we are just human, and often carnal (i.e. self-serving) in our thinking. And the scripture tells us that "to be carnally minded is death;...Because the carnal mind is enmity against God...:".

I was going to research what some of the commentators had to say about Enoch and his walk with God; I never made it past Adam Clarke's commentary:

The astonishing height of piety to which [Enoch] had arrived, being cleansed from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit, and having perfected holiness in the fear of God, we find not only his soul but his body purified, so that, without being obliged to visit the empire of death, he was capable of immediate translation to the paradise of God. There are few cases of this kind on record; but probably there might be more, many more, were the followers of God more faithful to the grace they receive.

I'm sorry if this is offensive, but Adam Clark's commentary---and Enoch's walk with God---are indictments against many of us who claim to walk with God today. I say this with tears and brokenness because I realize how far I have to go to ever hope to reach the relationship with God that some of the men of old had. And we needn't go all that far back to find men who could put us to shame: the stories are far and wide of men in just recent generations---we don't have to reach back into the Old Testament----who walked in a different realm than many of us walk in today. It is not that God favored them any more than He favors us today, for God is no respecter of persons.

It is just that they paid---willingly---a price to walk with God that many of us haven't decided we're willing to pay yet. Some will; others will not.

Does this mean that those who do not pay the price will be ineffective in the Kingdom, or unimportant to God? Of course not.

But there will be those giants who rise and walk among us and cast a much larger shadow than others. These men may never preach a conference or campmeeting; the chances of them running in the circles of the UPC "elite" are quite slim. They are too devoted to walking in the footsteps of their Master to try walking with other men.

At the risk of sounding egotistical, I confess that it has been said of me in the past that I am a good preacher. Superlatives and descriptives have been used that, quite honestly, are both flattering and embarrassing at the same time. When it comes to the gift of music, I acknowledge that I am skilled; God has blessed me, and He alone is worthy of any and all accolades.

But this morning, I have decided that I am not interested in being known as a great preacher, nor even as a great musician.

But God help me...Please let it be said of a truth when I pass from this life that, "He walked with God...and God took him."

There is no greater statement that could be said of a man.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Death Of A Buzzard

I actually killed a buzzard.

In my entire lifetime, I've only seen one or two dead on the highway; it seems the nasty things---as bulky as they appear to be---always manage, somehow, to get out of the way of that oncoming vehicle.

Buzzards. Scavengers. Connoisseurs of carcasses and other things dead or dying.

I hit one today. Killed that nasty thing graveyard dead.

And cracked the windshield on my Ford Windstar. I wasn't moving slow.

Doing 70mph on a two-lane highway out west of Fort Worth, Texas, there was little time or room to maneuver. Besides, I'd seen this before; they sit crouched over the roadkill until they realize you mean business, then they flap those huge wings and get out of the way.

Except this one didn't.

He tried, I'll give him credit. He flapped his wings for all he was worth. And he got off the ground, eventually. He made it to just about rear-view mirror height before he was unceremoniously introduced beak-first to a 1996 Ford Windstar. There was an enormous thud, the windshield cracked, and the king of roadkill was history...the scavenger had become the scavenged. I'm sure all his buzzard buddies gathered around to pay their last respects before taking a dig at what was left of him.

How in the world did I hit a buzzard?

Those thing always manage to get out of the way in time. But this one didn't. He couldn't.

I didn't stop to do an autopsy on what was left of him, but I have an idea of what brought about such an untimely demise.

He was too full to avoid the oncoming vehicle. What he probably expected to be a short snack became his Last Supper, if you will. The filth and decay that he had ingested had settled too heavily on his digestive system; the unexpected weight of the putrid garbage he was enjoying kept him from getting off the ground, and out of harm's way.

I'm sure it was not the first vehicle that had ever honked a warning at him. And I gave him plenty of time to get off the ground, out of the way. Which was why this surprised, even shocked, me.

There was no excuse for this ugly old bird to die; he had plenty of notice that I was coming.

But he was too busy devouring the carcass of something else that had died on that same road. The rotting remains that had sated his appetite ultimately weighted him down, kept him from taking flight...flight that could have saved his life.

There was no escaping, though he had ample warning. His craving for corruption killed him.

And it didn't just cost the buzzard. I've got a cracked windshield to deal with.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Spiritual Splenda?

Splenda® has taken the artificial sweetener world to a new level, and they've done it in a most unexpected way.

Instead of trying to concoct their own sweetener, the folks who created Splenda® simply changed the molecular formula of sugar itself. Ergo, the tagline that (somewhat truthfully) states: "Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar".

The problem is, it doesn't really taste like sugar...unless it's all you're used to. A few years ago, when Splenda® hit the market, my wife began using it. She loved it. Said it really did taste like sugar. I tried it, but I've always hated any sort of artificial sweetener, so I complained about the aftertaste. Like aspartame (Equal®, Sweet 'n' Low®, etc) it just left a slightly bitter taste, and I could still tell the difference. I hate diet soft drinks, but I gave Diet Coke with Splenda® a try; it still had the same unappealing aftertaste that let me know, no matter how they tried to market it, it didn't taste like sugar to me.

My wife gave me a hard time about my supposed "super-taster" taste buds. She absolutely loves Splenda®, and used it in her coffee, tea, started baking with it, etc. Well, I drink my coffee black, so that didn't affect me; I drink my tea without lemon or sugar so that didn't bother me; the sweets and desserts, well, I just dealt with it. I could tell it was Splenda® but I let her use it.

When we moved to Austin a couple years ago, someone told us to start using local honey to keep the allergies at bay. This was an old trick that we'd learned long ago, but this time, my wife decided to give it a try. So, for the past two years, she's been using honey in her coffee (and tea) instead of Splenda®. Now that she and I have decided to diet, she decided she would have to sacrifice the honey and go back to Splenda®. No big deal, since it's "Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar", right?


Big difference, according to her. The first few mornings she had coffee with Splenda® in it, her nose wrinkled everytime she took a sip. One of our greatest pleasures in life---drinking coffee---became an unpleasant experience. She finally confessed that there were just certain "allowances" she would have to make on this new diet, and using honey in her coffee was one of them. Suddenly, I wasn't the only one with "super taste buds" who could tell the difference.

What made the difference? She had the real thing for awhile. It's hard to get much more "sugary" than real honey. Granted, it's a natural sweetener, and not processed, but the level of sweetness is hard to match. Try going from honey to an artificial sweetener and see if you can't tell the difference!

Here's the rub, though: the makers of Splenda® really do make their artificial sweetener from sugar. Check out their website and you'll discover that the way they do this simply by changing three atoms on the sugar molecule.

They didn't come up with some new formula; they simply took what worked, and changed it just a tiny fraction.

The only problem is, by just changing something on the molecular level, they changed everything.

Not only does Splenda® not taste like sugar (to some of us, anyway) but it doesn't cook like sugar, either. Thus, the reason they created Splenda® Sugar Blend for Baking. This combines the no-calorie artificial sweetener with enough of the genuine so that you still get the consistency, texture, and sweetness of your original recipe, but with a fraction of the calories. Once again, they have built on the original formula (of sugar), to give your recipe the appearance, feel, and taste of the genuine thing but blended it with enough artificial stuff so you don't have the guilt or the calories.

2 Cor 11:3-4; 13-15 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

Satan couldn't abort the birth of this glorious apostolic Church. He could not squelch it in its earliest stages, for every evil deed, every beating, every trial, every stoning, every imprisonment only served to reinforce the faith and the determination of the apostles. Even into the later generations, the apostolic movement endured hardships, horsewhippings, rotten eggs, proclamations against the "oneness" heretics, but still they maintained the substance of a God-anointed, Jesus-centered message of repentance, water baptism by immersion in the Name of Jesus Christ, and the infilling of the Holy Ghost with the initial sign of speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave the utterance. That initial New Birth experience was built upon with a life of godliness, living pure and righteous in the fear of God and refusing to water down the doctrine of this apostolic message.

Satan couldn't stop it, so he joined it.

He couldn't create a new recipe that didn't leave a bad taste, so he decided to build around the original formula. Leave enough of the real stuff in, change things on a molecular level, and most would never notice the difference.

Diet Salvation.

What are your spiritual taste buds telling you?

Pardon me for being offensive, but I've little use for someone who builds around the apostolic message, but refuses to stand on it. Change the structure just a tiny bit---"We'll baptize you in Jesus' Name, if that's what you want."---and you change the whole formula. Add just enough of the real substance to it, so it holds up under the heat---"Yes, we believe in speaking in tongues, but that may not come at the initial infilling of the Spirit; don't be concerned if it doesn't happen right away."---and you get Diet Salvation.

No requirements. No calories. No substance. No guilt.

And no Jesus, either.
Jesus Himself told his listeners, "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." (Matt 24:24)

It is my opinion that we need not worry about the David Koresh's or the Jim Jones' of the world, but rather those that will draw great crowds of people with swelling words backed by demonstrations of supposed power. The devil has been a deceiver and a great impersonator from the beginning, and when the apostolic church begins to display the power of God moving in our midst, it will be but a very short time before the imitation begins. Like Splenda® it will be built around the original structure of apostolic doctrine, yet with just enough micro-changes so as not to annoy, offend, or make demands on those who can't tell the real from the fake.

I can tell when a cake, a pie, or a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies has been made using Splenda®.

I pray that I will be every bit as perceptive---if not more so---when it comes to the doctrine that I live, preach, and teach.

There's no such thing as Salvation Lite.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fighting The Music Devil

I've lived with the Music Devil pretty much all my life.

I know what it is to struggle---and lose the fight---with the Music Devil.

Many who will read this blog may have never heard my piano playing. There are those, however, that can attest to the ability that God has seen fit to bless me with, and I readily give Him all the glory for it.

I can play the Jerry Lee Lewis "Whole Lotta Shakin'" style, the good ol' southern gospel style, the Floyd Cramer stuff, the jazzy-bluesy feel, the black gospel stuff...God has been very, very, very good to me in trusting me with such ability. It's all Him. I've never had lessons, and can't read music.

When I went to Jackson College of Ministries a few years ago, everyone naturally assumed that I was attending as a music major.

I wasn't.

When we came to Austin two years ago, everyone assumed I would immediately jump into the music program.

I didn't.

I know all too well the struggle with the Music Devil. I didn't want to fight him again...not that early in the transition period of ministry.

I have been abundantly blessed with music through most of my life; I have been the "musician that you couldn't do without" in too many churches to count. I've been the one who made the faces, who griped about the sound man, who mouthed off during choir practices. I am the one Bro. Pastor patted on the back, gave a pep-talk to, turned his head the other way when I was acting the fool, yet kept putting me up on the piano bench.

And I hated myself for it.

But you know something? I despised even moreso the pastors who put up with me.

Nothing is more spineless and pathetic than a supposed "man of God" who doesn't have the backbone to sit a musician down when they're not measuring up. Give me a pastor that will set me on a pew and sing off-key acapella rather than allow me to have my petty little way and ruin the service.

You want to have a move of God, pastors? You want to stop what's hindering the flow of the Holy Ghost on your platform? Then sit the carnal musician down, tell them to line up with the Word of God and your God-ordained platform policy, or send them packing.

What's more important? Having a clear channel for the Holy Ghost to move through? or having a praise team that can "rock the house" and impress all your visitors? Give me no music and the Presence of the Almighty any day over an incredibly-talented praise team missing the Anointing.

Let me share with you something that I never thought I would share with anyone...

I was the piano player in a service one night several years ago; we were singing some old Pentecostal worship chorus..."He Set Me Free" or something similar...people were going nuts. At one particular place in the chorus, I would do one of my little Jerry Lee "Killer" runs, and the congregation would "worship" even more frantically. I watched with complete detachment (I wasn't feeling a thing) as "my" music controlled the temperature of the congregation. Almost like a scientist in a lab out to prove a theory, I went into a very passive mode of playing for about two passes of the chorus...the worship toned down, the shouters quit shouting, the jumpers quit jumping...and then, at the appropriate time, WHAM! I did my little "Goodness gracious, great balls 'o' fire!" run and hit the keyboard wide open...The place went absolutely berserk again.

Musicians understand the power they have over a service. More importantly, the spirit within understands that power, which is why the struggle is so great. You are not dealing merely with talented people who are moody; you are dealing with talented people that Satan knows are moody. And if he can get to them before you do, before God does, he understands that your services are doomed.

We are much like the teenage daughter who pushed her parents to see how much they would allow her to get away with. The one man...yea, the ONLY ever sit me down, get in my face, and tell me point-blank, "I don't need you, I don't need your talent, and I don't need your attitude" has more of my respect, love, and admiration than all the other pastors I ever had...combined.

Why? Because I was dealing with a spirit of darkness, and I knew it. I needed a strong man to help me stare that spirit down and defeat it. And once I found that man, I had no problems dealing with the "Music Devil".

We don't need to be coddled, Pastor. We need to be led by men who are stronger than we are, and who realize they're stronger than we are. Men who are not afraid to sing off-key, if need be, to have a move of the Holy Ghost.

A common statement—usually uttered in disdain on the part of a frustrated pastor—that I disagree with is the statement: "There is always a replacement...and usually much better." This is not true. Quality musicians are not so easy to find in our churches anymore. And we know it, in spite of what you try to preach from your pulpits.

But that's where you, Bro. Pastor, cannot be afraid to sit us down.

If you dare let us think that you would rather have good music than a move of the Spirit, the Music Devil will come calling.

And the next time we go a day or two without praying, the next time someone doesn't sing the song the way we learned it, the next time someone pulls an old musty-dusty out of the hymnal, the Music Devil will be there whispering that you can't make it without us, that you can't have church without us.

Prove us wrong. Prove the Music Devil wrong.

Help us musicians whip the Music Devil.

Some of us hate him even worse than you do, because we have to fight him every time we step up to an instrument.

*If you are a Pastor, Minister of Music, etc, and are interested, I am available to teach seminars on the proper role and place of music in the Kingdom of God. For more information, please visit the following website. Thank you for prayerfully considering me.*

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

We Ain't Still The Acts 2 Church

"This church was born in a blaze of glory with outsiders wondering what in the world was going on. I think if they ain't still wonderin', we ain't still the Acts 2 church. Just my 'pinion."

Thus, my response to someone who accused our modern-day worship in Pentecostal churches of being a "learned response" rather than a genuine reaction to God's Presence.

I cannot tell you of a certainty how they worshipped in the book of Acts; I can tell you, however, that something was happening at the onset of the Holy Ghost experience that caused the onlookers to accuse them of being drunk.

I've never wondered if a man was inebriated just because he was carrying on a quiet conversation in a corner of the room. I've never pondered the idea that some sharp-dressed, charismatic, energetic guy might be a bit tipsy just because he dressed nicely, or spoke enthusiastically about what interested him.

Drunks get sloppy. Drunks get foolish. Drunks get carried away. Drunks get laughed at; they become the brunt of jokes; sometimes folks even take advantage of their inebriated condition. Drunks are anything but reserved.

The problem with a lot of so-called "apostolic" churches is they've become too mainstream to do all that "charismatic" worship anymore. They want to enjoy the benefits of God's power, but don't want to get their hair messed up in the process. They want to wear their six-button suits and look like they stepped out of some fashion magazine, and God forbid that He move on them to actually worship like a drunk. Well, now...that just wouldn't be becoming a "man of Gawd".

Pardon me for preaching a minute, but you don't plug into a 440-volt line without getting jolted in the process. And you don't plug into God's power without something happening. Prayer doesn't necessarily mean power. Praise doesn't necessarily mean power. But let somebody hook up with God...something's gonna move!

Rev. Wayne Huntley said it best: "We Ain't Drunk As We 'Posed To Be".

I'm all for balance, and I've had to deal with some of these heebie-jeebie crossover charismatics that brought their style with them, but don't give me some dead, dried-up, shriveled-up, pew-sittin', hands-folded, "Praise Jesus" churches that just want to sing about being a friend of God. Give me a church that proves God is THEIR friend by the way they worship.

I hate that song. Self-centered, self-promoting, "all about me" song that 90% of people who sing don't even realize Jesus said "...and ye are my friends if you do whatsoever I command you."

That's what's wrong with so many churches today; it's become all about them and their relationship with God. What about God's relationship with them?

Concerning Abraham, God said to Himself, "Shall I hide that thing which I do?...for I know him...."

Wonder how many of our churches God says that about today?

It ain't Hell that I'm worried about knowing who I am; I just want God to know.

So much for my early morning rant. I'll have my coffee now...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

New Birth vs. Cloned Pentecostals

Are folks getting the "real" Holy Ghost? Is there such a thing as a "false" infilling? I have heard it stated that, because a non-apostolic preacher delivered the message of salvation, that folks who came to God at the close of the message received a "false" Holy Ghost, not "the real thing".

Let the record show that I wholeheartedly disagree with such sentiment. God uses whom He will, and He has used preachers outside the confines of the UPCI to deliver His Word when the occasion called for it. It's tough to swallow...I know; we tend to think that God has limited His anointing to only those who carry a fellowship card.

I am not convinced there is a "false Holy Ghost"; I am concerned, however, over what appears to be the "cloning" of Pentecostals.

There seems to be a trend in our churches lately (much more evident in large conferences or conventions) where it seems folks are almost rushed to the point of speaking in tongues, then someone (usually the person praying with them) pokes a thumb in the air, waves a hand, or shouts excitedly "Here's another one!"

I am concerned that we are dangerously close to by-passing God in our attempts to fill churches. Some have made accusations that our ministers are "just out to pad their numbers" or "just looking to get some more tithe-payers", and other hurtful statements. Overall, however, I don't believe that is the case. I do feel, however, that we are obsessed with "reaching the lost", to the point that we attempt to create what must be born. We have derided scientists for cloning sheep and other animals, and have cried loudly against their desire to attempt cloning humans. "It is unnatural! Only God can create life!" we say. Yet we are recklessly attempting to "clone" God by creating "Pentecostals"...not born-again Christians.

It seems (to me) that the accepted norm is now to "get 'em in the door by whatever means necessary" with the idea that we'll train folks into the Holy Ghost. By no means am I advocating that we should keep our doors closed and our focus narrow; I am stating, however, that we can never replace an apostolic experience with a classroom environment. Thank God for home bible studies; thank God for small groups' meetings and home friendship groups. These, however, should be accessories to the moving of the Spirit in our churches...not replacements.

First, I am concerned with this "it only takes a moment to repent" ideaology. Perhaps that's because I've always been very tender-hearted, and when I fail God, I find myself sobbing on the floor, broken at the idea of hurting Him. There is much to be said for godly sorrow, and I firmly support the idea that kneeling is a posture of submission to God. Let the sinner kneel in the presence of a holy God! Let them cry, let them weep, let them get snot on their chin, taste the salt of their own tears! Don't raise them to their feet and say "Now worship God!" We need a revival of repentance in our altars; the church needs to be the ones leading the way, and the sinners will soon follow. Every move of God in scripture was preceded by a time of brokenness and repentance...not by a worship chorus singing "I wanna dance dance dance dance dance dance all night...all night". We're fond of quoting Joel 2:28, but we need to read the first part of that chapter, where Joel 2:28 was preceded by a time of weeping, repentance, sackcloth and ashes.

Secondly, we need to quit this "lalalala" thing, trying to subtly teach folks how to speak in tongues. This is just my feelings on the issue, but I will say it: When I'm praying with folks in the altar, and I feel the "urge" to speak in tongues, I back off from the seeker. I don't want them listening to me thinking "That's what I'm supposed to say." I've seen folks seeking the Holy Ghost, and it bugs me to no end to watch folks pray with them and yell tongues into their ear. If you feel good, fine...back away and do your thing, but don't confuse someone else by causing them to think they have to speak like you're speaking. There are thousands of languages, and thousands of dialects, and the Holy Ghost may move on them to speak Swahili....not Hebrew like you are. People get confused when they hear a good ol' sister jabbering, because they think that's how it's supposed to sound. We need to pray with and for people...not at them. Let the Spirit give the utterance, and quit trying to demonstrate how it's supposed to sound!

On another note (yet in the same line), there is a great man of God who heavily influenced my life and ministry. I love him and hold him in the greatest esteem as a man of God, but I wholeheartedly disagreed with him when he would work the altars and tell people, "When I got the Holy Ghost, I only spoke three words in tongues." That's fine, but (again, just my opinion) that's dangerously close to telling someone to be satisfied with just a little murmer or momentary jabber. Let them speak for an hour if God does it that way; keep your personal testimony for another time.

Thirdly, we have seriously bypassed the joy of receiving the Holy Ghost. When folks say a few words in garbled English (often the result of not being able to swallow their own spittle), we scream "That's it! That's the Holy Ghost!" Hey, that was the object of the game, wasn't it? So why stand around and wait for something different, especially when their arms are tired. So they stop short of the full experience of being born all over again. It was harmful enough that they didn't fully die (because they were told they'd repented enough already) but now they're being born without truly experiencing the life-giving event. Folks need to experience the full effect of God changing their life.

Last, and I believe this answers a lot of questions about whether folks are getting the "real deal" or not, if you have to tell someone they got it, chances are good they didn't. I'm not saying they didn't speak in tongues; I'm saying they didn't get the apostolic experience.

We need to understand that there's more to this than just our supposed "finish line" of speaking in tongues. No one has to tell a newborn infant, "Guess what? You've just been born!" The wonderment, the attempts to focus, even the fear of an unknown world, tells that little guy (or girl) that something is curiously different! Why does a newly-born-again person have to be told that things are different? If they're unaware of any change, again...there probably wasn't any change. Our fixation on getting people to speak in tongues is crippling us, and is creating weakened, damaged new converts that demand much of our attention.

And we've brought it on ourselves by spiritually "induced labor".

We have, I'm afraid, grown somewhat lazy and selfish. Child-bearing has never been a comfortable process, and often exacts hours upon hours of agonizing labor from the mother, not to mention the nine months or so of discomfort she has endured to this point of delivery. As a church, we should not expect to come easy that which has demanded---both physically and spiritually---so much since the beginning. I believe that if this apostolic church returned to the basics of prayer, fasting, and travailing for children to be born---instead of looking for spiritual surrogates---God would move in our altars, and the "old-time" New Birth experience would be seen again.

Until such time, however, we will continue to create our "Pentecostals", rather than watching our churches give birth to apostolics.

Thank God for Ignorance

Used to be a time when I prided myself on having a bit of a "connection"; all the latest goings-on of this grand organization of which I'm a part were easily discovered by just keeping an ear close to the ground, and a couple of phone numbers on "speed-dial".

In recent years, the few "inside tracks" that I once had have all but disconnected themselves, or have lost their inside connections, or just simply lost interest in all the political maneuverings. They have chosen, instead, to focus their attention on the more crucial aspects of reaching the lost.

Now there's an idea.

How did we get to such a point as we find ourselves today? How did we shift our focus from reaching a lost and dying world, bound by sin and headed for hell, to our current state of personal agendas and private politics?

In my most recent blog, I made mention of prayer having the ability to cause the Will of God to be done. The simple truth of the matter is that prayer still works; prayer can still give us divine direction and allow us to know and understand the Will of the Lord for this church.

The problem is that some have either ceased praying, or they "pray" with a closed mind. "God, this is what we need, and this is how we want you to do it." Some are so busy seeking fire and brimstone to fall on those who oppose them that they scarcely have time to ask God what He wants. Of course, some are so certain of having the mind of God that they know better than God does what is best for all.

After all, how did this church get to such a grand state as it is now without our leadership?

Hmmm....could there be a connection?

When, in the name of the Lord, will we cease and desist from all these trivial pursuits and wrangling for power? Almost rhetorically I ask, will we ever be able to re-focus our attention on the things that matter most? Is God going to have a church that bears children as a result of a passionate relationship with Him? Or are we going to turn into the proverbial nagging shrew that only complains about the way things are being done around the house?

God help us all.

We need a revival.

I'm not talking about a harvest of souls, or a series of meetings. We need a revival.

We need to forgive one another, pray for one another, help one another. We need to cease and desist these silly arguments about who's doing what, why they did it, who stole someone's position, saint, musician, assistant pastor, etc.

Here's a thought: if your brother does something unethical, perhaps you should pray for him instead of running to a board member somewhere and filing a complaint. We have become infected with the litigious spirit of modern society. And it reeks of sour discontent and childish self-centeredness.

With every moment we spend arguing amongst ourselves about infantile issues and petty politics, countless souls race headlong into a godless eternity filled with pain, torment and misery.

Thank God for ignorance. We need more of it. We need men who earnestly and openly seek the will of God for the leadership of this organization. And then remove their hands from that duly-appointed leadership and trust God to lead the leaders.

Our leadership is filled with good men, godly men, men who (I choose to believe, anyway) sincerely want the best for this organization. Men who have a burden to reach our lost world, pulling them from the flames of hell and darkness before Eternity snatches them away. These men do not need our criticism, questions, or sarcastic wit; they need our prayers and support.

So what if they do things a bit differently than I would? If I pray---I'm not talking about a "God help us all" prayer; I'm talking about fervent and sincere prayer, humbling myself before God---prior to casting my ballot, and then submit myself and my will to whatever the outcome is, then I should keep my mouth shut and my knees bent for those men whom God has placed in positions of authority.

But it has become so difficult for us to crucify this flesh, with all its agendas and personal desires and ideas of what is right and best. It's much easier to tear something down from the inside out; the only problem is, when we tear it down, it comes right down on top of us.

The older I get, and the more removed from all the goings-on, the more grateful I am for ignorance. I no longer care to know who's in what position, how he/she got elected, or if they're doing everything "the right way" (which is usually interpreted "the way I would do it"). God help me to pray, cast my lot, and accept the outcome as the Will of God. And then support whomever is there with my prayers and faithfulness.

Sometimes, to get God, you've got to get ignorant. Ignorant of the things around you; ignorant of the temptations of this earth; ignorant of the political posturing of other men who have agendas they're trying to promote.

Thank God for ignorance. It's more of a blessing than I ever realized.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Do Elections Reflect The Will of God?

In the United Pentecostal Church Int'l, the vast majority of business is accomplished by the election process. Pastors, presbyters, superintendents are voted in, resolutions are passed, departmental directors are elected, committees are formed, etc.

How much of all this business is our personal agenda, and how much of it is reflective of the Will of God actually being achieved? Do our elections always reflect the will of the Lord? Or is it possible that sometimes my personal feelings or desires get in the way?

First, is prayer able to cause the Will of God to be accomplished? Yes...look at the casting of the lots for the replacement of Judas Iscariot.
Acts 1:24-26: 24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, 25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. 26 And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.The brethren prayed, and then cast lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.

I believe there are other instances where prayer was made before a decision, and that prayer allowed the Will of God to be known.

Whether or not we, as an organization, will ever reach that place again, I do not know; sadly, I tend to think that we won't. The reason being, we have grown too large, too political, and there are too many personal agendas on the table for every man to feel like, "Whatever decision is made, I will accept the outcome as the Will of the Lord."

Perfect example: just last summer (2006), a few weeks leading up to our General Conference, a gentleman called for a season of prayer and fasting, "earnestly seeking the will of God" to be done concerning an upcoming Resolution. This dear brother gave a heartwarming story of how a young convert had, at one time, questioned whether the brethren prayed before the GC business sessions so they could find the mind of God. This brother went on to state that he "was smitten in [his] heart", and in telling his story, related that we---regardless of which side we were on---should find a place of prayer and fasting, and go into the Business Session knowing the mind of God.

The problem is, this dear brother had already made up his mind what the will of God was. Subsequent emails changed dramatically in their tone to the point this same man was calling for prayer against the "spiritual terrorists who are out to destroy the UPCI".

Could God have moved him to change his vote? It's possible...but how many of us---and yes, I said "us"---are pliable enough in God's hand that, even if it goes against what we feel is right and best for ourselves, our families, our churches, our organization, that we will submit and vote "No" when we had planned for months to vote "Yes"?

This is why it is so imperative that we walk in the Spirit, live in the Spirit, and have the mind of Christ.
1 Cor 2:11, 16: 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

The only way we will ever truly know the mind and will of God---for our own lives, for the lives of those whom we have been trusted to oversee, for the purpose, direction, and leadership of this great movement---is to have the Spirit of God, the mind of Christ. According to this passage of scripture, without these things, we will continue setting our own agendas, and feeling like our will is God's will...when it's supposed to be the other way around.

It's like the age-old story of a church of 150 people, beautiful sanctuary, six-figure tithes, in the suburbs of a major metro area...17 preachers will feel like it's "the will of God" for them to be the pastor of that assembly. But how many of those 17 would accept the will of God if He told them to go pastor that little dinky church of 23 senior citizens in Birdscuffle, USA?

Until we can learn to walk in the Spirit and recognize the direction of the Holy Ghost, voting will always reflect the will and agenda of men...never of God.

God just gets lucky sometimes that enough of us vote His way.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Whatever happened to Hell?

The topic of preaching on Hell was recently raised in an online forum for preachers of a particular church affiliation. The question was asked, and the statement made: "When was the last time you preached about hell?...Millions are going there...We must preach about this horrible place!"

The author of the thread was seeking some feedback concerning our lack of preaching conviction, hell, and the eternal damnation of the wicked.

Responses that he got were vague, non-descript, or completely off-topic. I was a bit taken aback by the lack of responses, and the casual attitude with which such a topic was addressed.

Here, then, as posted on that particular forum, is my own response.


I believe the reason that so little preaching is done concerning hell anymore is our own lack of revelation.

We have focused our attention on revelation of the Godhead, revelation of doctrine, revelation of salvation, revelation of victorious living, revelation of walking in the Spirit, et al...yet we have scarcely glanced at the reality of a Christless eternity.

We have no revelation of how lost the lost truly are.

We offer the unsaved hope in every imaginable shape, form, and fashion. Books are written touting hope, freedom, deliverance, victorious living, spiritual power, etc. Yet we skirt the issue of what happens if they choose to continue living in sin.

Find a preacher who believes that those who go into eternity unsaved will meet a Righteous Judge (and not necessarily "a just and merciful Saviour") and that they will be eternally damned, and you'll find a preacher who can preach hell as hot as ever a man used to preach it.

The enemy of the church is not compromise; it's apathy.

We have ceased feeling the hot flames of an eternal lake of fire, and oh-so-subtly, the ideaology of the "abomination of the wicked" has crept into our thinking. We would never preach nor teach such doctrine, but I think, in our human frailty, we subconsciously block out the thought of the lost truly being lost forever. To dwell on such thoughts would produce prayer meetings and altar services like we used to see, conviction like we used to feel, repentance that is unquestionable. Puffy eyes, snot on the carpet, wailing cries of "God have mercy on their souls" would replace the "God loves you just the way you are" theologies that have filled many pulpits...including UPC pulpits.

We have preached "God hates sin but loves the sinner" for so many years that the lines have been blurred. Does God love the sinner? If so, why does the scripture tell us "God heareth not sinners..."? What about "the face of the Lord is against them that do evil"? Or even stronger (and an excellent Bible study) "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me."

Jesus did not say that He came "to love sinners"; He said He had come to call sinners to repentance. Somewhere, the lines between "love" and "tolerance" merged into one faint shadow known as "acceptance". While I understand, believe, preach and teach that Christ died for the sinner, that does not mean that He tolerates their wickedness.

God still despises sin; it is contrary to His very nature. He died to save the homosexual and lesbian, the liar, cheater, whoremonger, fornicator, the child molester, the porn addict, the drunkard, the prostitute, the murderer; that does not mean, however, that He feels sorry for we often do. Nor does it mean that He will tolerate such a continued lifestyle...even after repentance.

"Poor, tormented soul...they're bound by chains of sin." Yes, but many choose to remain in those chains rather than accept the key that salvation through the shed blood of Christ can offer them. And we silently accept their refusal to change, without warning them of the consequences. God spilled His own blood---innocent and guiltless of any wrong-doing whatsoever---so that they could be set free from their bondage. Is it any wonder His face is turned against those who refuse His mercy?

You can't truly preach hell without the stink of sulphur and the heat of the flames and expect to get results. People are hardened to every imaginable picture you can paint.

I will confess that, years back, when I was unsaved, I became enamored---addicted, actually---to what is known as "splatter movies". Nothing but torment, gore, murder, demonic activity, etc. (Please don't crucify me; I was not in church, and believe me when I tell you that this garbage will leave scars in your mind.) This was during the years of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street movies. There was a movie (I think there were a couple of sequels that came out, also) that came out entitled Hellraiser. It dealt with this trinity of demonic spirits that had been unleashed on earth. The way these movies were portrayed, especially being released to the public one right after another, each more brutal, grotesque, and hellish in its portrayal, it is no wonder that my generation---and the following---became so hardened.

Our little church drama teams in black robes and red pitchforks, blacklights and scary music, is no match for what Hollywood can portray. The problem is that Hollywood portrays it in a manner that is appealing to the brutish, carnal nature of a world that is more and more enamored with debauchery and demonic activity. The more gruesome, the better.

We will never produce conviction and/or results by attempting to portray hell even in our most graphic terminology. People have seen it all on the big screen, and no matter how hard I try to describe a black, godless eternity, they will conjure up their own image of what Hell will be like.

And it will be nothing like the reality of Hell itself.

As the people of God, we have lived in a Holy-Ghost cocoon for so many years, surrounded---even on our worst of days, in our darkest of moments---by the presence of our Saviour, that we cannot truly fathom what it will be like to spend an eternity with absolutely no hope, no peace, no joy. There will be no "light at the end of the darkness" because the darkness itself is eternal. There will be no hope of death to end the suffering, because the suffering itself is the "second death".

Until we receive a revelation of eternal damnation, we will continue struggling to portray Hell, and we will continue having little effect on the unsaved with such messages.

But when God opens our understanding---like I believe He did with men such as Jonathan Edwards, famous for his Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God sermon---we will preach Hell with a renewed passion, fear, anguish, and cry aloud for the unsaved to find God while they still can.

When such anointed, convinced preaching is delivered, I believe we will see results like the great revivals of old used to see.