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.