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.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Pastor, You're Being Watched

I posted this in an online forum for ministers, but decided to post it here for the sake of posterity. This was a response to someone's question about "What do you do to protect yourself?" etc. Several questions were asked regarding accountability, et al. This is my response.
PS: The reference to the "Music Devil thread" concerns a thread that was started in this same forum. Pardon the confusion.
If you want to make matters really confusing, let the man whom you once knew as your bishop, pastor, shepherd (or whatever other tag we choose to hang on 'em) go haywire, and then you try to pick up the shattered fragments of respect and awe that you once held for 'em.

This is why respect for the ministry and the "Man of Gawd" is so sorely lacking anymore. Too many pastors (and other ministers, but pastors are the ones primarily in the leadership spotlight) have made this a "Follow Me! Follow Me!" ministry, instead of "Follow Christ" or even "Follow me as I follow Christ."

I thank God that one of the most valuable lessons my dad ever taught me across his pulpit was that man might fail, but God never does. Man can make mistakes, but God doesn't. His philosophy was always "Follow me as long as I'm in the Word, but you check the Book out and make sure I'm in the Word."

I have had very few pastors in my life. I'm sure I'll come under the gun for making such a brash (but honest) statement, but the fact of the matter is that I was always able to exert at least a small amount of control over them because of my extraordinary gifting in music. (Before you launch into your attack, please read what I wrote on the "Music Devil" thread...if it's still in existence.) The number of men who refused to be "played" by my carnal, arrogant nature can be counted on one hand.

But one of those men just flatly sat me down across from him, poked his finger in my chest and told me where I stood. He immediately had my attention...and my respect. He became my pastor, my bishop, my mentor. I loved him, admired him, prayed for him, followed him around like a puppy, longed for attention from, and fellowship with, him. I held him in awe.

The problem is, that same man has done some---pardon me---pretty stupid stuff in recent years, and although I still love him and respect his ability to deliver the Word (few can touch him) I would never, ever be able to go to him for counsel.

The man who is now my Superintendent is also my current pastor. But he is my pastor not because his name is renowned, but because, over a period of almost two years, I have watched him closely. I've watched for weaknesses, for chinks in his armor; I've watched him to see how he dealt with certain issues, certain people that I knew were "problem saints". His manner, his administration in all matters is always---ALWAYS---consistent. He preaches across his pulpit what he writes in his books. He writes in his books what he preaches across his pulpit. I got to spend two weeks traveling with him, chauffering him to various ministerial functions, and I promise you, spending that time with him, getting acquainted with him, watching him interact with other men---both small and great---made me realize this guy is 100% real.

I suppose I have written yet another epistle without meaning to, but let my story convey something to all of us: People watch us.

Too often I think we're guilty of writing folks off as "dumb sheep", and that's why some men fall into the "follow me" trap. No one's watching, no one ever notices my attitude, no one else sees me speak sharply to my children, no one sees how I treat my wife like a common servant, nobody ever notices these things.

Take it from someone who's been around the block a time or two. People are watching. If you're inconsistent in any area of your life, rest assured there's someone who knows it.

We love to preach accountability. I think if the truth were known, however, very few of us are actually "accountable" on a regular basis to other men. We are, after all, "men of God" and we answer to Him alone. We have no problem answering the easy questions---no we haven't looked at pornography, yes, we've prayed and studied the Word---but let someone start asking some personal questions, such as "How are you treating your wife? Have you spoken harshly toward your children? Are your bills being paid in a timely manner? Are you eating healthy and taking care of your temple?", and suddenly "accountability" becomes "being nosy".

If we expect those who follow us to be accountable to us, we should give them a man (or woman) whom they feel they can trust with their soul.

After all, God does.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Are We Distinctive?

In a recent email, a pastor friend posed the question to me: "What makes us [as a church body or organization] distinctive?"

There was a time when the United Pentecostal Church was distinctive for several things: standard of dress, lifestyle, abstinence from worldly things, the belief---and teaching---that water baptism in the name of Jesus was a necessary part of the formula for salvation, and, probably the most distinctive mark of all, the revelation---and empassioned preaching---of the fullness of the Godhead revealed in Jesus Christ. We were ridiculed, known only by our "rules" and for all the things that we "couldn't do".

Those days are gone, however. In recent years, in an attempt to be more socially acceptable, we have lessened our stance on certain issues, accepted things as normal behavior for a "new Christian", and some have even softened their position on the essentiality of baptism.

My response to my pastor friend was not popular with at least a couple of ministers whom he shared it with (with my knowledge, of course), but I didn't expect it would be.

I still believe it's the truth, however, and so I make no apologies for what I write.

Here is my response to his question:
This is probably not going to be the answer you expected to receive...

We no longer are distinctive.

For the very reasons that you have mentioned here, the UPCI has become yet another "religious movement" swallowed up in the vast maw of diversity that encompasses Christianity, Eastern religions, Science-based religions, etc. No one knows who we are anymore. What's worse, no one cares.

Why? Because there are no longer any lines of distinction. One of two things has happened over the past 20 years:

(1) What we have preached and stood for (or against; take your pick) for years, other denominations---or the public in general---has now picked up on and decided that we were right, or (2) what the other denominations---or the public in general---has been saying for years, we've picked up on and decided they were right.

Methodists speak in tongues, Baptists enjoy outward demonstrative worship, Catholics teach trying to live godly. Charismatic churches preach on faithful stewardship, paying tithes, abstaining from immoral lifestyles. (Their concept of what is immoral may be a bit weaker than ours, but as one of my bible college instructors used to say, "Believe it or not, even Charismatics have standards.")

Likewise, the UPCI has finally decided that "grace" is not such a bad word; that by teaching salvation is by grace is not equivolent with teaching that we can live however we want and we'll still get into heaven. "Personal relationship with Christ" is also not the bane of the UPCI; we're finally understanding (some, anyway) that "holiness" cannot be based on works simply for the works' sake. If our Christian experience is not built upon---and focused on----a relationship with God, striving to please Him in all that we do (or don't do), then our so-called "holiness" is shallow, vain, and meaningless.

Nor do I believe that it's because we "are the only ones who believe that Jehovah and Jesus are the one God". There are other monotheistic religious organizations that believe that Jesus Christ was the incarnation of the God of the Old Testament. They may not be as eloquent in their definition of it as some of our preachers are, and they might not emphasize it quite as strongly as we do, but the belief is there. They just haven't put it at the forefront of their image like the UPCI did for years.

Granted, there was a time when our insistence (rightly so, I might add) that Jesus' Name baptism was essential made us stand out a bit, but I believe that even those days are gone. There are other churches who, though they may not insist on Jesus' Name baptism, feel that baptism is a necessary step in salvation; and while they may not devoutly profess Jesus-Name to be the only true method, they no longer avoid it like the plague. I believe there are pastors and ministers in several denominations who feel that, if a baptismal "candidate" approaches them with "Jesus' Name" questions, they will baptize them that way. It's not just the Pentecostals who are blurring the lines.

We don't bear the fruit of the Spirit, so we're not recognizable. I have a "non-bearing Bartlett" pear tree in my back yard. Two of 'em, matter of fact. They provide shade, bloom for a couple weeks in early spring (they just lost the last of their beautiful white flowers), then turn a beautiful green. Not being a horticulturist, I had no idea what kind of trees they were. No fruit. Could've been maple, for all I knew. (I can tell the difference between a pine tree and an oak, but that's about it.) Without fruit, I never would've known what kind of trees these are. My father-in-law had to tell me.

Without fruit, how is the world supposed to know the difference between us and every other church on every other corner?

The next mark of distinction---and I do believe it will happen---that will separate us from the rest of the religious world is the one that separated the early church from the Jewish sect of Pharisees and Saducees.

Power with God.

Not "holiness". Not legalistic manuevers. Not even "Jesus' Name" or "Jesus everything" doctrine that we so proudly hail.

Power with God.

We proclaim ourselves to be apostolic, when the truth is, we are only apostolic in doctrine. We hide behind a facade of "onesies and twosies" getting the Holy Ghost, and someone getting healed of a headache, when God is looking for a church that will crucify their mortal flesh, walk in the Spirit, and allow Him to demonstrate that He still fills complete congregations with His Spirit, that He can still heal cancers, grow limbs, open blind eyes.

Like it or not, we are so hung up on these trivial little issues that we have completely lost our identity as the genuine Apostolic church. We're trying to hang our reputation---and we have tried it for years unsuccessfully---on one or two little differences, and prided ourselves for "having the Truth". (Insert angelic choir here.)

What the world needs is not another church, not another organization, not another Christian Coalition, nor another American Family Association.

They're not looking for another doctrine, another baptismal method, or more outward appearances to believe that we're different from everyone else. They're looking for a demonstration of the power and deliverance that God can offer.

Until we can offer them that, we have no distinction. We're just another face in the religious crowd, with nothing more to offer than any other religious denomination.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Is It Really Okay?

Yet another "spill-over" from the online forum of which I am such an active part. This time, my dear brother (name withheld) posed a question entitled "Is It Really Okay?" This was his response to the very liberal amount of name-calling, goading, biting comments directed from one supposed "apostolic" minister to another.

I was once again appalled at the response from at least one of the men who are part of this forum. (Ironically, that same man is the one who suggested I take my writings and put them on a blog somewhere for others to benefit from. Go figure.)

More often than not, the words that I post (either in my blogs or on these forums) are the result of just starting to type, and my feelings start leaking out. I say things that I never intended to say, yet am not sorry that I say them. I admit to being somewhat brutal in my affront, but my thoughts or words are never intended to be malicious or harmful; only to speak what I feel is the truth that others may be skirting, and to cause us all to pause and consider what we are doing or saying.

Here, then, is my response to my good friend's question, "Is it really call one another names? have no consideration for the feelings of others? pick someone else's thoughts or opinions apart by belittling, ridiculing, or accusing them of false motivation?" et al.
Is it easy being a Christian? Hardly...which is why we've ignored it and focused on being Pentecostal. Or "apostolic" (today's hot label).

I am afraid that we have proudly labeled ourselves "apostolic" but forgotten the part about being "Christians".

After reading your post, I confess that I went to my closet to pray, and I had to repent because I am guilty of this very thing. I have sought to be "apostolic"; I have sought to have the power of God, the anointing of God, oh yes, even the favor of God in my life...but what I need is the Spirit of Christ more than anything.

Tell me, how am I supposed to affect those around me when I walk in carnality? How can my preaching or music be life-changing when my spirit exudes arrogance and disdain for any and all who disagree with me? All the books I can read, all the sermons I can build, all the conferences I could preach (if I were a conference-caliber speaker) could never change a life...but if someone can see Jesus in me, if someone sees His reflection instead of my own, then perhaps I will have succeeded in what I am called to do: touch lives with the Gospel of Christ.

Are we so consumed with "apostolic power" and demonstration of the power of God that we have ignored the very nature of Christ? Are we so concerned with being "preachers" that we are guilty of living a double standard? We teach and preach these very lessons from our pulpits to those under our leadership, and then we log on to this forum and call each other names, and disguise it under "friendly chatter". Should we hear our saints referring to one another in such terms, I can imagine we would work up a good bible study (probably based on the book of James) about how "the tongue is a fire...set of fire of hell".

We complain about the lack of reverence for the ministry today from those around us, yet we treat each other like common vagabonds, showing that same lack of respect. These guys being referred to as "Jerk" or "Idiot" or "Loser" are men of God, called and ordained of God; I wonder what God thinks about me referring to His servant in such a manner?

Jesus told His disciples, "Henceforth I call ye no more servants, but friends..." Somehow I can't see Him slapping "the boys" on the back and saying "You big jerk! You're an idiot!" I certainly can't see them addressing Him that way, either.

The brutal truth of the matter is that we pick and choose how and where we walk in the Spirit. "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ..." refers to a lifestyle, not an old coat that gets tossed in the closet when warm weather arrives.

We can justify everything we do with excuses, but the truth is, we slip into and out of the nature of Christ according to what mood we're in.

Is it any wonder we're not changing our world? They know we're Pentecostal, but still can't tell if we're Christians or not...

Phil 1:27 Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ:...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Should We Change Directions?

Someone posed the question, "Who should set the direction for the United Pentecostal Church?" This same person then went on to lambast "all these upcoming young guys" who (in his opinion, at least) had no "corn in the crib" yet had all these visions of wanting to change the direction of this fellowship that I am blessed to be a part of. (Incidentally, the guy posing the question/accusation is younger than I am; not even in his 40's yet, so this was not some gray-headed old geezer nervous about losing a position somewhere.)

Although I did not address his concerns directly (he was more interested in standards of dress, lifestyle, etc) I did feel a response. This particular post probably elicited more response than most of my others, probably because it was purely spontaneous and came from my heart.

It may not be the most popular answer, so consider yourself warned.
I'm not young (although 44 isn't old), but I will look anybody in the eye and say we desperately need to change the direction of the UPCI.

We have become a "Barbie-doll" organization instead of the genuine apostolic movement that we once were. We have done the very thing to this movement that we preach against to our ladies: we've applied makeup and touchup and polish and glitter and glamour to replace what used to be. We have church-growth conferences instead of growing churches; we have prayer conferences where we talk about prayer instead of praying. We have conferences now where thumbs are poked in the air as another trophy of our personal success instead of seeing all-night prayer meetings where saint and sinner alike moved God with tears.

The UPCI is still, in my opinion, the finest organization around, and I'm glad to be a part of it. But we have become so consumed with what our people LOOK like, or DON'T look like, that we've ignored what they ARE or AREN'T.


I had a cup of coffee the other day, and that's all I can tell you about it. I love coffee, and I would rather taste bitter coffee and at least remember it, than to go through an entire thermos and not even know I drank coffee. Nothing to remember, nothing to remark about...After I had finished my second or third cup of coffee, I couldn't tell you whether I liked it or disliked it.

How does the world today view the people that attend our churches? As a bunch of religious, rule-following, wear-your-hair-up, long-skirt wearing ladies and clean-shaven men? Or do they sense something that goes deeper than outward appearance? When an apostolic walks away from a conversation, God forbid they should be considered an "unremarkable" person. We need something born within us---starting with us as preachers of this life-changing Gospel---that cannot be ignored when we walk into a room, or forgotten when we walk out.

Pardon me for being blunt, but we need preaching that can't be fellowshipped away at Chili's an hour after dismissal.

We don't need a "return to the pathways of holiness"; most (believe it or not) never left those pathways. The voices of a few malcontents might make it seem that way, but I believe the huge majority of our ministers still believe in looking, dressing, and living godly, abstaining all appearance of evil.

But I am concerned that we have forsaken the old pathways of godly prayer and shaking Heaven, in an attempt to replace it with what looks good, sounds good, seems good. We have programs, outreaches, ministries why are we still struggling to reach the world? Why are we still in "competition" with the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Baptists, to fill our churches? Why are we still looking for programs, choirs, singers, special services, Saturday night get-togethers, in an effort to reach our communities?

I have been shaken and convicted more in the past couple months that what is sorely lacking is not "holiness", but apostolic power. And dress length, hair length, all of our "do's and don'ts" will never bring apostolic power like good ol' fashioned on-our-face prayer used to bring.

Sorry for the rant. But you can't convince me we need to hold onto what we've got. We need to turn loose of what we've become enamored with, and we need to get ahold of what our forefathers had.

God is looking for a Bride, not a Barbie doll.