Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Barnabas Letter # 48 -- To Myself When I Am Old

To the uninitiated who are reading this blog, you are about to read a Barnabas Letter. This is Letter # 48. I begin writing these in March 1995 with nothing more than an effort to be an encouragment to those who were serving in some capacity of helping others in the Church. May you gain something from your time with this thought. My hope is that you will become a greater servant for the Lord.

rch 28, 2006

Dear Servant of the Lord,

A good friend of mine, Paul Jacks, told me some time ago about going to a Men’s Retreat in Texas and hearing the venerable Crawford Coon teach. He taught three sessions on various matters to men who walking through this world and trying to remain unspotted from it. He told me that at some point during these sessions that Bro. Coon shared with them a letter that he had written to himself when he was a much younger man. The whole emphasis of this letter was to remind him of what it was like to be young and what was going through his mind at that time. Bro. Coon’s purpose in this was to help him to maintain his balance when he was an “old man.”

I was told that Bro. Coon would give you a copy of this letter if you were to write him and ask for it. Although I had great intentions to do this, I never did.

However, the whole concept of this idea has really gnawed at me for a few years and so after much contemplation and jotting down ragged notes on a legal pad, I am going to write myself a letter. I no longer fit into the category of being a young preacher. I was ordained this past summer and prior to that had in possession a General license for 13 years. But on the other hand, I am not an old preacher either, so with that in mind, I am taking you along with me so that you might gain some insight from this letter too!

A Servant,

Philip Harrelson

Dear Philip,

You have finally decided to sit down and read a letter that you wrote to yourself a long time ago. You wrote this letter when you were 5 ½ months shy of forty years old. I was told that something “magic” happens when you turn forty and you obviously now know whether or not that is true or not. But since I am this side of forty, I cannot know the future. I do know that what you saw as future then is now past. I pray that your past has been extremely productive and that you have continued to live a consistent and faithful walk with God. But as you age, you begin to understand some things about the younger men who are now stepping up to replace you. Some of these young men, you have actively placed your hands on their lives. They have seen your faithful example and are now walking purposely with “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Do not fear these young men. They love the Kingdom of God, they love the saints of the Kingdom, and they especially love the elders of the Kingdom. Do not fear for the Kingdom, it belongs to God and He will entrust that it is not subverted nor torn down.

Here are some of the things that you were living and thinking from your 35th to 40th year. You had the good sense to jot some things down that you were thinking as you contemplated dealing with your youthful peers during that era. They are listed as points and are not in any particular order, they are simply things to prompt you to what you were thinking years ago.

1. Please do not get bitter.

I have noticed that some old men turn into old, bitter and angry men. I have been associated with some young men who have incredibly gifted minds, very sharp talents, and very warm hearts. These young men simply do a better job than “old preachers.” They are more organized, they speak better, and they can accomplish things faster. Furthermore, they love God with all of their heart.

The fact of the matter is this: They are not better men because success is not measured in numbers but rather in character. The reason that they are better is because this generation and the pace of technology has given them absolutely unlimited resources that older men did not have and have not gotten comfortable using.

Remember the first time that Bro. Patterson handed you your first real book that was ministry related. It was that old Swindoll classic, Hand Me Another Brick, a devotional commentary on Nehemiah. Remember how you devoured that book.

But my resources have now so far escalated that at my fingertips on this handy little notebook computer, I can get into the Greek and Hebrew languages, rare commentaries, a vast array of sermon notes, millions of audio/video messages, not even to mention this little matter of “blogging”. It would be an incredible shame if I did not bypass the generation of older men in front of me.

In fact, I am going beyond that thought and will say that I would have been lazy, undisciplined, negligent, and any other negative allusion you can think to add if I would not have developed my heart, soul, and spirit. Remember that these young men honor you because your own personal growth has challenged them to grow. Now they have bypassed you. . . . But isn’t that what you would have hoped for. Would you want them to always stay beneath you? For young ministers to stay under the “old preachers” would mean that this glorious Church has become atrophied with paralysis.

Please keep in mind that all of these young men are there because they stood on the shoulders of giants. You were one of the giants. Just like you stood on Bro. Patterson’s shoulders (who was a giant), they are now standing on your shoulders! Don’t get disheartened into thinking that your best days are behind you, you are living out a very useful life in these young men now and you have the greatest reward in front of you. Please do not get bitter!

Youth is not your enemy. Harness the strength of youth with wisdom of age. Let the powerful vision of youth drive you on to hunger for more of God and more of His presence.

2. Love Justice.

Youth has a tendency to rattle the sabers. They want justice. The world of a young man is often very black and white. This can be good and it can be bad. It can be good because it means that life is pulsing through their spirit. It can be bad because sometimes the charge of justice will turn the world upside down. Mercy sometimes can get shoved out of the way when Justice charges forward.

One of the reasons that old men do not like justice is because it creates havoc in their world. Older men have the tendency to “go along to get along.” You can let sin lurk in the Church and in time it will bite you. But worse than it biting you, the cover-up is going to end up destroying the lives of an innocent bystander. You are an old man now and you can deal with it. The greater question is what will it do to those new tender converts if justice is not served?

Always try to err on the side of mercy, but there are unique situations, where the voice of Justice needs to thunder with an absolute clarity. Put your trust in the Book and let “justice roll down like the waters.”

3. The Matter of Desire.

Youth has a great tendency to be motivated by ambition and by desire. Very little is accomplished in a minister’s life or in the Church that he serves without ambition and desire. No revival or great spiritual awakening was ever generated without a man having his whole world turned upside with desire. It is important to be content but you have seen contentment degenerate into laziness. There is great poverty associated with satisfaction.

Remember that Tozer quote that you found one day while you were studying to preach:

Pray that I will not just come to a wearied end—an exhausted, tired, old preacher, interested only in a place to roost. Pray that I will let my Christian standards cost me something right down to the last gasp. A. W. Tozer

Remember that things are built in youth and they are preserved in old age. If you have distilled some of your desire it will now be feeding you. You will not be preaching “re-runs” as are some of your peers, you will still be digging for the “fresh words” to blow that Church you are still serving sky high. If there are any traces of desire, it will still motivate you to do some fasting. Don’t get down on yourself for not being able to go on those extended fasts as you did when you were younger, but continue to skip some meals it still works. You need to still be investing yourself in some of those gut-wrenching prayer meetings where tears seemed to be your “meat.”

Desire fosters revival. Desire cultivates excellence. Please whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the maintenance mode. This will be bad for your mind and your health. Age can sometimes lean toward security and a comfortable path. Resist It!!!! Take the Risk!!!

You have to remember all of the times that Bro. Patterson was going to the revival conferences scattered around the country. There were a few “old men” at those conferences but not many. There were a lot of young men who were hungry for God to do something in their lives at those places. You have to remember what it was like when Vesta Mangun cut loose at BOTT in 2004 and J. T. Pugh began to cry out, “Night Cometh” which was apparently a sermon that he had preached in the distant past. He never forgot it. Most folks their age were resting comfortably in some extended care facility but they were not! They had huge doses of desire still left in their lives.

Associate with people who have desire in their lives. They will leave this world with their boots on and their gun barrels red-hot. Seek these folks out. Run with this crowd. Get off the golf course. Get out of the fishing boat. You have a job to do! You can fish and golf when you get to Heaven. Down here, your old voice is needed and the wisdom that is in your hoary head needs to guide and direct. Only what you do for Christ will really last!

Youth wants to speak. Old age wants them to calm down. Let the young men speak, they are no longer children. There are some young men who are wise beyond their years. Just as you have seen immature old men, there are immature young men. They have dull hearts, soggy brains, and little to offer. However, there are some young men who are mature men and they are like the men of Issachar, they have an understanding of the times.

4. Generational Down-Grading?

Every generation has the tendency to think that the one beneath them is compromising and giving every doctrinal truth and standard away. Remember the year of 2002. You spent that whole year reading and spending time with Charles Spurgeon. That was the year that you found the website with all of his sermons on it. Remember running across the “Down Grade Controversy” and how that Spurgeon got into a huge fight with his denomination and ended up being censured by them. Remember what it did to his health and it probably led to his premature death. He thought that there were some in his generation who were tossing important and crucial things out the window.

The devil loves to this sort of thing with the generations. Remember what a “generation gap” is and take it for what it is. A “generation gap” does not mean that the younger preachers are throwing things out the window. As long as there is a Church, you will have your men who look and act like Judas, Diotrephes, Hymenaeus, and Alexander. They will compromise and create trouble but just remember this for every one of them there are ten who aren’t. You will still have men like Gaius, Quartus, Marcus, Rufus, and Epaphras. The reason you don’t know these faithful men is because they are very low profile on this earth. However, their profile on the other side of this life is stunning. Given time, you are going to die or be raptured out of here and you will see this.

Don’t waste your time sharpening your axe to cut down these men. Their effect will be very short-lived. If you spend all of your time with Barnabas Letters, “hot potato” sermons to your local church (they don’t know about all of the politics that you are firing at), politicking with those who hold the same grievances, and trying to build a conference to stifle these fellows, it will bite you. Please remember the troubling words that you read in Spurgeon’s autobiography and some of the other books about how that it led to a harsh bitterness and depression in his life. Remember that it tore him and his own brother apart. Remember that Spurgeon lost some of his closest friends over this unimportant battle.

It was not so much a matter of change of doctrine as it was a change of time. Be assured that time will change but doctrine will not. If you want to really prevent doctrinal compromise then put your hands on some young men. Teach them how to pray and fast. Teach them the Word. Grant them the opportunities that Bro. Patterson granted to you. Don’t decapitate them when they make mistakes, work gently with them and then repair the fences they have mistakenly run through. By the way, don’t infect them with your prejudices, bias’, and negative feelings. Show them the ropes and this Church will continue on.

5. Stay Fresh.

Read new books. Preach new sermons. Find new friends. Remember those two churches that you preached in your late 20’s and how that both of those places had been dead for years. The reason that the churches were dead was because the pastors were dead, they just had not been buried yet.

Wade through your incredible personal library that you have been building for 30 years and find that book that Tim Kelley put in your path, Preaching with Freshness, by Mawhinney. Even though you have already literally read it five times, read it again! Pull out the checklist in the back and stay fresh.

Go back and pick up John Harrell’s catalog of sermons and look through it and compare where you are now with where he was then. Be careful with this little catalog because you only have this one and it is literally falling apart. If you are still coming up short, then let your goal be to bypass him before you pass on. If you have caught him, then give thanks to God that he came into your life when you were 35. His preaching motivated you and now you have fed the flock that you were responsible for.

Finally, you need to thank God for the blessings, the setbacks, the trials and tribulations, and for the great discoveries that you have managed to lock into with your life. Being a servant of the Lord is the most wonderful thing in the world.

May your reward be great!

A Servant,

Philip Harrelson

Monday, March 27, 2006

Book Review -- Don't Waste Your Life -- John Piper

If you are much of a reader, you will discover that there are two types of authors. Those who change to write and those who write to change. Those who change to write are generally writers of fiction who keep up with the trends of what readers want and they adapt their books to fit into that genre.

Then there is that grand category of writers who write to change. Charles Dickens' novels is such a writer who writes to change. His stories do much more than just tell a story. They get into the mind of the characters and they play into the plot. The reader is much more than just a spectator of the story. He has the ability, through the story, to feel the weight of choices and the dilemmas that each character has to struggle with. To really get what I am trying to convey, one would probably find it a good exercise to read Oliver Twist and pace the path with Fagan, one of Dicken's most evil characters in all of his books. A. J. Cronin and Lloyd C. Douglas are writers from a bygone era who wrote with such precision that you could almost "feel" every twist in the story. Perhaps a modern writer to compare with the "feel" of the character would be Jeffrey Archer.

John Grisham's earlier books had the ability to make the reader really want to do something more than just yawn and say, "What a great book!" The Last Testament made me want to be a missionary. A Time To Kill made me want to look at racial issues are little more clearly. The Street Lawyer made me want to go volunteer in some soup kitchen somewhere. While I never really followed through with those ideas, at least, I became more aware of these pressing needs that Grisham's world of fiction brought me to.

This book by John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life, is a book that has just continued in the line of books that are forcing an uncomfortable stirring of my own personal nest. I think that books like this are good for our comfortable little lives because it stirs the velvet curtains of our American leisure.

I "accidentally" found John Piper's books about five years ago. The first one that I bought, purely out of curiosity, was a book called A Godward Life which was a collection of devotional thoughts. They were so stirring to me that I just continued to purchase his books along the way.

Don't Waste Your Life did not take long to get off the ground.

The following excerpt is from pp. 45-46: I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader's Digest which tells about a couple who took early retirement in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise in their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells." At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn't. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life--and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgement: "Look Lord. See my shells." That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don't buy it. Don't waste your life.

He explores our responsibilities to the local church in such a way that flatly and soundly opposes the market driven concept of the current "me-Chruchianity". Our responsibility to the local church, which Piper states is the most important institution of modern society, has eternal ramifications. He reaches deep into our responsibility toward foreign missions. He does this with the idea of giving and then by going.

He also greatly challenges what we are doing with our minds. He demonstrates very, very well that the average modern American mind has lost it's ability to reason, to meditate, and to really give a logical thought process to the Word of God. The American mind is becoming a desolate wilderness because supposed "success" remedies are cause a great shortcut of the process that it takes to mentally grow. The American mind has become a spectator that is being daily rendered numb by the effect of what we are watching!

Some books taper off as they go along (as with a lot of modern Christian books) but Piper gets stronger as he writes. He closes the book down with a very practical and probing survey of where and what we are spending our lives on. He uses some excellent illustrations from World War ll by making comparisons of the way that the young generation of that time versus the thinking of this current generation.

This book is worth the time and energy you will be required to spend with it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Houston, We Have A Problem

Me, The SBC, and IMB

About a year ago, a small blip hit my radar screen in the "blogdom" as it is called. It is quite a unique place. It has helped me to see the world from another angle in the last several months. Now that blip has turned into a huge blip. The blip came across the screen when I started picking up on some trends in Baptist blog circles where there was much discussion about tongues and spiritual gifts. Real spiritual gifts, not flower arranging, cooking potluck dinners, or vacuum cleaner maintenance, but real stuff, like the 1 Corinthians 12-14 things. Soon thereafter, Tim Kelley, a friend of mine sent me the CD's from the Louisiana summer fest and there was one particular message that caused the blip to get bigger.

T. F. Tenney preached/taught a message about being an Apostolic in this age and how that many non-Spirit filled (and even some SF churches) churches are filled with apathy, indifference, and other things that are literally choking them down. He also noted that he had been invited to a large Baptist conference to speak and it was there that several Baptist ministers confessed that they had been filled with the Spirit and had spoken with tongues.

I got the typical "warm fuzzies" that we Pentecostals are famous for at the time but it progressed and touched something much deeper. So I just continued to do something that I have been doing for years (at least 10 years, maybe longer) and that was to continue to pray for non-Spirit filled churches to have an outpouring of the Spirit on their pastors, elders, and congregants.

Foolish though it seemed at the time, I would ride by these churches in my city, very slowly (usually at night) and roll the window down and hold my hand out and "prayer over" these places. I know that sounds preposterous and probably if you following behind me in my little white Mazda it looked preposterous! It was not a long drawn out deal, just a "God let Your Spirit find it's way into the lives of those folks." I have to admit that more times than not, I did feel a little foolish for doing something like this. I would save the more intense prayer meetings for when I was alone in prayer. The fact of the matter is this: I want revival in this city!!!! However it happens is not really the issue, just let it happen.

The blip continued to grow when I learned of this official statement that had come out from the IMB which is the Southern Baptist Convention's Mission Board:

IMB Prayer Language Policy

November 15, 2005
That the following policy regarding tongues and prayer language of missionary candidates be adopted:

1. The New Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia that generally is considered to be a legitimate language of some people group.
2. The New Testament expression of glossolalia as a gift had specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship.
3. In term of worship practices, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice glossolalia. Therefore, if glossolalia is a public part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.

1. Prayer language as commonly expressed by those practitioners is not the same as the biblical use of glossolalia.
2. Paul’s clear teaching is that prayer is to be made with understanding.
3. Any spiritual experience must be tested by the Scriptures.
4. In terms of general practice, the majority of Southern Baptists do not accept what is referred to as “private prayer language.” Therefore, if “private prayer language” is an ongoing part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC.

1. This policy is not retroactive.
2. Any exceptions to the above policy must be reviewed by the staff and the Process Review Committee.

Because of "blogdom" I discovered that the leaders in "mission control" had to give the above policy because some of their missionaries apparently have begin to let the Lord have more control than what has been standard and customary in the past. I think that any logical, cognizant mind would have to agree that when you see such a statement coming from "mission control" that there obviously is a problem somewhere! This is the problem that we Pentecostals have been praying would happen for a long time. However, the problem is not the problem. The problem is actually the solution!

I believe what is occurring in SBC circles and churches is there are some good, godly pastors who are finding some wicked church fights. Stories circulate of some SBC churches that are run by extremely carnal boards and when a pastor starts trying to make some changes that will benefit the spiritual (not social) atmosphere of the church, he finds himself at odds with the board. These boards then begin to position themselves in such a fashion that it makes the life for a pastor and his family very miserable. I know of at least one who resigned under tremendous pressure because he was rocking the boat. In these desperate circumstances, these men have no other place to turn but to God. When they get involved with God in a heart-rending prayer meeting, something occurs that has never happened before, they begin to speak with tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance.

Another scenario that presents itself is a little different from what I have just described. This scenario involves a pastor or a set of parents that find themselves in overwhelming situations with people whose marriages, finances, children, and other things are literally out of control. They are trying to provide counsel to those who are in involved with drugs, immorality, and all sorts of other difficulties. These men and women kneel down and during those times of desperate prayer, they are receiving the Spirit. It is at first somewhat mysterious to them and to some even frightening because they have never had this experience before. Yet, they find great comfort and encouragement from these times of prayer. The Spirit blows where it listeth as the KJV states and no man can quarantine the wind.

Furthermore, I begin to frequent some of the message boards scattered about Baptist theological circles. I begin to notice a trend among those in Baptist leadership circles. I believe that one of the things about the message boards is that it provides anonymity to those who want to sometimes ask the hard questions that are lurking in their souls. I am listing some comments (with some editing to remove extraneous matter not applicable to this post) that came from a message board that I ran across a few weeks ago. Again, more issues with the hot topic of tongues and whether or not the Spirit has "ceased" to work in this generation:

Dear Brothers

Are you smarter, know the scriptures better (Greek & Hebrew) or served longer than these men?

John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney, John Piper, Wayne Grudem (Have you written a Systematic theology that many seminaries use?) Robert Saucey (Talbot people), many Dallas Seminary teachers, Trinity Evangelical, Westminster and so on. You should trust them. It it very hard from scripture to prove that the all the gifts have stopped. The truth is we are only dealing with three gifts, we all believe in spiritual gifts, just not a healer or miracles or tongues. But I ask you, do you not believe in Mircales? Do you not believe that God can heal? We would all say yes, but it's by God's will and through pray. If a person prays and the other person becomes well, would the person that prayed, would he be known has a healer?

How about when God's speaks with us when we are praying and gives us insight into some problem or direction in life, would that be considered Charismatic? All of us get spiritual help from the Holy Spirit. How about that great prayer warrior in your church (The little old lady)that knows God, stays up all night praying to Him and has great spiritual insight of the church and the Bible, would she be considered Charismatic?

How about James 5 that commands us to pray for the sick?

Why are we arguing over three gifts? Pretty soon we will argue over the KJV only, Christian rock music, pants, ties and then try to start our own new fellowship. Because we believe we are so right. (With our Bible College degree or just a 3 years Seminary degree. The truth is that we have read some books, been taught something from our youth that says, "Spiritual gifts are not of the day.")

Does anyone know what is the Sword of the Lord is ? They have a book that says "How great souls winners were filled with the Holy Spirit." (D.L Moody, R.A Torrey, Chapman, Spurgeon, Finney, Sunday) if you read their testimonies, it sounds Charismatic but we all know they are not. The Holy Spirit is alive and real and it not for Charismatics only.

Anyone know Jack Hyles? He had a Spiritual experience that would sound Charismatic.

Here is the fact, if we are so smart and know more than these guys then why is God not using you.

The Shepherds Conferences and Grace Church, knows what they are doing, John MacArthur is not Charismatic or will be Charismatic, that is a joke. I am very glad to know this about C.J. Mahaney and John Piper and that John MacArthur has them at the conference.

Be grateful and stop complaining, I would love to have the gift of healing because there are so many people hurting in my Church. I don't have the gift but we do pray for them, that God would heal them.

God Bless You brothers, let us fight against the cults of the day more than each other.

Chris D.

Admittedly, Chris D. did wash a little laundry. Yet he was not the only one who affirmed this point that he was making. Others affirmed the position of the Spirit in the life of those who were seeking the Spirit. The whole reason for his letter is that John MacArthur had taken some criticism for allowing men like John Piper, C. J. Mahaney, and Wayne Grudem take some part in his conference. These men have some leanings toward a continued work of the Spirit and it's manifestation in our day. Notice what I am not saying, these men have not fully embraced what most who read this blog have. Simply, they are not hostile to what has been common in Pentecostal circles for years. (NOTE: Piper, Mahaney, Grudem, and MacArthur are not part of the SBC crowd, they are more so considered fundamentalists.)

We need to pray for men who are suddenly in the hot seat and taking criticism for their belief that spiritual gifts did not die with the Apostles. I have to place this in statement for sake of clarity and fairness to John MacArthur: He has never been and probably never will be a man who is a continuationist (one who believes spiritual gifts continues today). Furthermore, I would add that we Pentecostals might learn something from his dogged discipline at expository preaching and mirror the death grip that he holds on the doctrines that he believes.

In John MacArthur's defense and a lot of others in his category, if TBN were the only point of reference that you had for a work of the Spirit, it is doubtful that you would embrace it either. Sometimes, I personally think that TBN ought to change their name to The Cartoon Network. It is literally amazing and need I say heretical some of the Scriptural positions that these "ministers" take. (Pardon me. This is one of my personal soapboxes that I periodically need to get on).

What is my responsibility in this matter? There are several:

  • 1. Continue to pray for God to move to hungry hearts who are seeking a greater relationship with God.
  • 2. Seek out those men who are really hungry to know more about the manifestation of spiritual gifts and help them come to a Biblical understanding of these things.
  • 3. Promote a spiritual atmosphere in the Church that I serve to always have people in mind who are seeking for a work of the Spirit. This is more than a fast-song, the beat, etc. A spiritual atmosphere will always have the liberty of worship, a promotion of prayer, and a hunger for the Word through preaching/teaching.
  • 4. Encourage. . . .Encourage. . . .Encourage a deeper walk with God to anyone who comes into my path.
  • 5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, ignore the nitwits, dingbats, and anything else that remotely resembles anything in between. There are nitwits, kooks, etc. on both sides of this issue. It can be approached biblically and logically.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Night. . . . Descending Into Hell

A friend of mine, Calvin Jean, a few weeks ago told me that I had to read a book that he was reading. He told me that his girls, who were seniors in high school, were having to do term papers on books that they were able to select from a list. They happened to pick Night by Elie Weisel. Their choice was what brought this very troubling story into my life. Calvin told me that he just picked up the book when one of his daughters had laid it down and was immediately drawn into the story.

Little did I realize what an impact that this book would have on my comfortable little world. In fact, I was so troubled by this
story that it would weave it's way into my preaching and into the lives of those to whom I preach to. There are some in the congregation who went and either checked it out at the library or bought it and read it. I confess that I made both of my boys, Justin and Nathan, read this book because it gave them some insight into the terror that ruined young Elie's life at age 14.

The story is a narrative that is given from a first person account. Elie Weisel was a young fourteen year old Jewish boy who would have to deal with the wickedness from a twisted mind of a madman. The trickle down effect of this man's evil would effect millions of lives during the 1930-40's and even further.

Early in the book, he begins to describe the train ride from his hometown that would ultimately take him to Auschwitz. One of the gut-wrenching scenes in the book is when Elie is separated from his mother and little sister shortly after entering Auschwitz. He would never see them again for their fate was sealed and they would have to die in the gas chambers.

The story traces a wretched path that the prisoners were forced to take. Oddly enough the German soldiers were not immune from the suffering that they had to be involved in and saw. Some of the soldiers were kind enough to try and help these unfortunates but there were others who covered their feelings and plunged in headfirst into the suffering with a vengeance. They fought against any feelings of compassion that might have arisen in their souls with extraordinary violence. Two groups, on opposite ends of the spectrum, were forced to walk their assigned path. One path was marked with the paradox of weakness and the other path was marked by a paradox of strength.

Stale bread and very weak potato soup and occasionally turnip soup would be their daily fare. Their bodies soon became living skeletons from the weight loss. Others died from weakened immune systems. There were some who succumbed to terrible bouts with dysentery. Elie's father would die almost literally in his arms. He worked desperately trying to
save his father but all to no avail.

The impact of books like this can do one of two things. First, one can dismiss the facts and give this account up to history. Secondly, one can allow stories like this to afflict the comfort zones of life. For me, it was the second. My comfort zone was violated and troubled.

In fact, I ended up preaching a sermon about this entitled "A Truce with Hell" and concluded the message with a story that young Elie related.

Excerpt from Night by Elie Wiesel (pp. 33-37):

The door of the car slid open. A German officer accompanied by a Hungarian lieutenant-interpreter, came up and introduced himself.

“From this moment on, you come under the authority of the German army. Those of you who still have gold, silver, or watches in your possession must give them up now. Anyone who is later found to have kept anything will be shot on the spot. Secondly, anyone who feels ill may go to the hospital car. That’s all.”

The Hungarian lieutenant went among us with a basket and collected the last possessions from those who no longer wished to taste the bitterness of terror.

“There are eighty of you in the wagon,” added the German officer. “If anyone is missing, you’ll be shot, like dogs. . .”

They disappeared. The doors were closed. We were caught in a trap, right up to our necks. The doors were nailed up; the way back was finally cut off. The world was a cattle wagon, hermetically sealed.

We had a woman with us named Madame Schachter. She was about fifty; her ten year old son was with her, crouched in a corner. Her husband and two eldest sons had been deported with the first transport by mistake. The separation had completely broken her.

I knew her well. A quiet woman with tense, burning eyes, she had often been to our house. Her husband, who was a pious man, spent his days and nights in study, and it was she who worked to support the family.

Madame Schachter had gone out of her mind. On the first day of the journey she had already begun to moan and to keep asking why she had been separated from her family. As time went on, her cries grew hysterical.

On the third night, while we slept, some of us sitting one against the other and some standing, a piercing cry split the silence:

“Fire! I can see a fire! I can see a fire!”

There was a moment’s panic. Who was it who had cried out? It was Madame Schachter. Standing in the middle of the wagon, in the pale light from the windows, she looked like a withered tree in a cornfield. She pointed her arm toward the window, screaming:

“Look! Look at it! Fire! A terrible fire! Mercy! Oh, that fire!

Some of the men pressed up against the bars. There was nothing there; only the darkness.

The shock of this terrible awakening stayed with us for a long time. We still trembled from it. With every groan of the wheels on the rail, we felt that an abyss was about to open beneath our bodies. Powerless to still our own anguish, we tried to console ourselves:

“She’s mad, poor soul. . .”

Someone had put a damp cloth on her brow, to calm her, but still her screams went on:

“Fire! Fire!”

Her little boy was crying, hanging on to her skirt, trying to take hold of her hands. “It’s all right, Mummy! There’s nothing there. . . . Sit down. . .” This shook me even more than his mother’s screams had done.

Some women tried to calm her. “You’ll find your husband and your sons again. . . in a few days. . .”

She continued to scream, breathless, her voice broken by sobs. “Jews, listen to me! I can see a fire! There are huge flames! It is a furnace!”

It was as though she were possessed by an evil spirit which spoke from the depths of her being.

We tried to explain it away, more to calm ourselves and to recover our own breath than to comfort her. “She must be very thirsty, poor thing! That’s why she keeps talking about a fire devouring her.”

But it was in vain. Our terror was about to burst the sides of the train. Our nerves were at breaking point. Our flesh was creeping. It was as though madness were taking possession of us all. We could stand it no longer. Some of the young men forced her to sit down, tied her up, and put a gag in her mouth.

Silence again. The little boy sat down by his mother, crying. I had begun to breathe normally again. We could hear the wheels churning out the monotonous rhythm of a train traveling slowly through the night. We begin to doze, to rest, to dream. . .

An hour or two went by like this. Then another scream took our breath away. The woman had broken loose from her bonds and was crying out more loudly than ever:

“Look at the fire! Flames, flames everywhere. . .”

Once more the young men tied her up and gagged her. They even struck her. People encouraged them:

“Make her be quiet! She’s mad! Shut her up! She’s not the only one. She can keep her mouth shut. . .”

They struck her several times on the head—blows that might have killed her. Her little boy clung to her; he did not cry out; he did not say a word. He was not even weeping now.

An endless night. Toward dawn, Madame Schachter calmed down. Crouched in her corner, her bewildered gaze scouring the emptiness, she could no longer see us.

She stayed like that all through the day, dumb, absent, isolated among us. As soon as night fell, she began to scream: “There’s a fire over there!” She would point at a spot in space, always the same one. They were tired of hitting her. The heat, the thirst, the pestilential stench, the suffocating lack of air—these were as nothing compared with these screams which tore us to shreds. A few days more and we should all have started to scream too.

But we had reached a station. Those who were next to the windows to us its name:


No one had ever heard that name.

The train did not start up again. The afternoon passed slowly. Then the wagon doors slid open. Two men were allowed to get down to fetch water.

When they came back, they told us that, in exchange for a gold watch, they had discovered that this was the last stop. We would be getting out here. There was a labor camp. Conditions were good. Families would not be split up. Only young people would go to work in the factories. The old men and invalids would be kept occupied in the fields.

The barometer of confidence soared. Here was a sudden release from the terrors of the previous nights. We gave thanks to God.

Madame Schachter stayed in her corner, wilted, dumb, indifferent to the general confidence. Her little boy stroked her hand.

As dusk fell, darkness gathered inside the wagon. We started to eat our last provisions. At ten in the evening, everyone was looking for a convenient position in which to sleep for a while, and soon we were all asleep. Suddenly:

“The fire! The furnace! Look over there! . . . .”

Waking with a start, we rushed to the window. Yet again we had believed her, even if only for a moment. But there was nothing outside save the darkness of night. With shame in our souls, we went back to our places, gnawed by fear, in spite of ourselves. As she continued to scream, they began to hit her again, and it was with greatest difficulty that they silenced her.

The man in charge of our wagon called a German officer who was walking about on the platform, and asked him if Madame Schachter could be taken to the hospital car.

“You must be patient,” the German replied. “She’ll be taken there soon.”

Toward eleven o’clock, the train began to move. We pressed against the windows. The convoy was moving slowly. A quarter of an hour later, it slowed down again. Through the windows we could see barbed wire; we realized this must be the camp.

We had forgotten the existence of Madame Schachter. Suddenly, we heard terrible screams:

“Jews, look! Look through the window! Flames! Look!”

And as the train stopped, we saw this time that flames were gushing out of a tall chimney into the black sky.

Madame Schachter was silent herself. Once more she had become dumb, indifferent, absent, and had gone back to her corner.

We looked at the flames in the darkness. There was an abominable odor floating in the air. Suddenly, our doors opened. Some odd-looking characters, dressed in striped shirts and black trousers leapt into the wagon. They held electric torches and truncheons. They began to strike out to right and left, shouting:

“Everybody get out! Everyone out of the wagon! Quickly!”

We jumped out. I threw a last glance toward Madame Schachter. Her little boy was holding her hand.

In front of us flames. In the air that smell of burning flesh. It must have been about midnight. We had arrived—at Birkenau, reception center for Auschwitz.

They accused Madame Schachter of being mad and that she could not see the fire. . . but the fact of the matter is that she could indeed see the fire. Some would like to say that a preacher cannot see the fire. . . but the fact of the matter is that I do see the fire. . . . . .

For far too many, the sights and sounds of hell have disappeared from life. Our minds do not like to think of things that are so barbaric and "uneducated" and so "fundamentalist" sounding. All the while this mindset is causing us to descend into Hell. The path is so rapid and so quick. Job said it like this: Our days are as quick as a weaver's beam. The cloth that our lives are spinning will send us in one of two directions. There is no middle ground. We will either end up in heaven. . . . or . . . . . we will go to hell. Albert Mohler had this to say about hell:

“At some point in the nineteen-sixties, Hell disappeared. No one could say for certain when this happened. First it was there, then it wasn’t. Different people became aware of the disappearance of Hell at different times. Some realized that they had been living for years as though Hell did not exist, without having consciously registered its disappearance. Others realized that they had been behaving, out of habit, as though Hell were still there, though in fact they had ceased to believe in its existence long ago. . . . On the whole, the disappearance of Hell was a great relief, though it brought new problems”.

Now because hell has been forgotten, we are descending into it. If America and the rest of this world needed a book of Acts revival, it is now. The Harvest awaits. . . May we ever understand our responsibility, to reach, to stretch, to pray, and to seek that which is lost.

Book Recommendation -- Nobody's Perfect . . . Dean Shriver

I have just finished reading an excellent book for those who are involved in ministry. Whether it is a pulpit ministry, youth ministry, Sunday School, or anything that falls in between, this book is a very helpful book. Another useful thing about this book is that it is a 2 1/2 to 3 hour book that will not hang you up for days.

Dean Shriver has written Nobody's Perfect But You Have to Be. The subtitle is "The Power of Personal Integrity in Effective Preaching." It packs a punch and forces anyone who is in public ministry to really take a look at their personal life.

This excerpt in the introduction is the reason that I purchased this book:

The worship service was about to begin when I saw her. I greeted her with curiosity. I knew that she was a fully committed member of a sister church in our area. During our brief exchange, she quietly said, "I simply cannot listen to that man preach." That man was her pastor of almost two years. Why, on that morning, did she refuse to hear her own pastor preach? Was he a heretical teacher? Did he deny the truth of God's Word? Did he habitually twist Scripture to suit his own desires? No, on that Sunday the woman I greeted refused to hear her pastor because of his actions, not his words. It had happened at a recent board meeting. In the midst of debating an issue the younger pastor exploded in anger, slandered the woman's husband (a well-respected elder thirty years his senior), and even threatened to excommunicate him from the church. In the days that followed, the pastor continued to malign her husband behind his back. Now, at least in this woman's eyes, the young minister's credibility as a preacher was destroyed. On that Sunday morning, it wasn't that she could not hear him--she would not. (From the Introduction)

This story set the hook and it really caused me to take inventory of some of the things in my own personal life. The chapters on Humility, Contentment, and Practicing Spiritual Disciplines are some of the high points.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Best of the Rest - J. T. Pugh - The Making of a Champion

Some of you have followed along with the "Top Ten" sermons that I have heard in my life. It has been an interesting process but there were some that were very notable that I did not include in the Top Ten. So in the next few days (maybe weeks) I am going to give you what I am calling The Best of the Rest.

I previously mentioned this seminar in a previous post and the impact of J. T. Pugh's ministry. I am including the notes that I furiously scribbled while Bro. Pugh was preaching. I did notice something with my note-taking. I noticed that when a Scripture reference was mentioned in "preaching" that I would generally not make a note of it (very bad habit) but when someone was "teaching" then I would write down a vast number of Scripture references. Also, I noticed that when you try to decipher something that you have written in the past, that vagueness is a poor habit. The vagueness of the notes will leave you in the dark and it becomes a huge mystery. I discovered this when I begin to transcribe the notes that Bro. Pugh had left me from September 20, 1997.

This message was just as incredible as the one previously blogged. It was entitled, The Making of a Champion. He literally walked through the life of Peter in 95 minutes and when he was finished, I had been so totally caught up in the message that time did not even matter. How I wish I could do that!

Anyway, the notes are here for your encouragement.

J. T. PUGH -- 9/20/97


John 1:40-42 KJV One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. [41] He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. [42] And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.


-Andrew brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus. Jesus beheld Peter and saw him as he was and then told him what he was going to be. From Simon to a Stone.

-Jonathon Edwards wrote some Resolutions for his life. He always wanted to put his best effort forward. Always, always, always let there be a drive for revival, growth, maturity, and wisdom to rest in your ministry.

-If we are to bear the name of Jesus Christ, then we ought to be our very best, all the time. Never “slop” up the Gospel. You ought to view yourself as the greatest man in your town.

The “Becoming” of a Champion

1. A Champion has an objective and a direction in his life. It is the key element that he will live and die for.

-Champions are not born at the pinnacle of success. They have to set an objective in their lives and then begin to implement a plan.

General Dynamics was the engineering firm that was responsible for building the Apollo rockets. They were driven by a dream. Because they embraced that dream it totally consumed them. Some told stories about the moon, others speculated about it’s distance from earth, there were some who even tried to discourage General Dynamics and it’s engineers from the thought. But they were driven by a dream.

-To reach the goal is to give, to strive, to know that the sky is the limit. Everyday is a different day and it out to be pursued with such passion and intensity that God responds with His servants.

-So much is accomplished by purpose. Jacob had power with God and with men. The impossible is to be challenged every day that we live. The Impossible Dream is to be captured.

-The aspect of geography greatly plays a role in Andrew and Peter finding the Lord. They were 150 miles from home. Andrew wanted to bring Simon to the place of meeting Jesus.

-That is what you must do with your life!!! You must constantly bring people to the place of meeting Jesus. You will have to carry a church sometimes on your back to the place of meeting Jesus. It is involves pouring yourself into prayer and fasting and ministry of the Word. But there is a great promise to those who will invest their lives in this objective.

-The reason that Andrew wanted to bring Peter to the Lord was because there was something that was hidden in the life of Peter. Men are so full of hidden treasures and all it takes is the right strike of the pick. Churches are so full of hidden treasures that all it takes is for a “champion” to reach within his calling and create action of activity.

2. The Champion will change his style and then discipline himself to change.

-A man of action and activity was Peter, but he was to change. He was impetuous, stubborn, and impatient. He was thick-tongued and uncultured but God decided to make him into the unbreakable rock.

-There is a discipline that is involved with change. It can move us to the place of being a champion.

  • What are you spending your time on?
  • What are you spending your money on?

-The answer to those two questions will immediately indicate where and what your life is being spent on. Far too many allow themselves to get caught up into the activities that merely brings “bread” to the table. Far it be from you, to get caught up in the lazy, carefree, foolishness of materialistic treasures.

-I must change for the Kingdom of God. Change can create a certain self-respect. It can create a real sense of purpose.

-Peter was hopeful that he could change but he really did not think that he could.

  • Jesus borrowed a boat, to teach.
  • He borrowed Peter’s time for fishing.
  • Jesus borrowed Peter’s nets for a draught.
  • Jesus borrowed Peter's life for a ministry.

-Some of the most incredible victories that God every worked out came when he borrowed something that belonged to a man.

-Bro. Pugh said that he had seen so many men who refused to allow the Lord to “borrow” their lives, their churches, and their money because “security” was seemingly an issue. Our security rests solely in the One whom we serve. But there were others he said that he watched as God “borrowed” their lives and revivals and far more important things came out of their lives (He mentioned G.A. Mangun, V.A. Guidroz, and James Kilgore.)

-Peter confessed that he was a sinful man. He thought that God could not change him. Jesus told Peter, “From now on, you will catch fish!”

  • Fight against contentment.
  • Do battle with apathy.
  • Fight off satisfaction because it will bring poverty to your soul.

-Pray and reach for the unreachable star.

3. A Champion will submit to a trainer.

-The man who trains will train away from the limelight. It is the things that prepare us in the field when were are alone and away from the public eye and view of ministry. What happens in private will greatly effect what happens in public.

-Bit by bit the discipline and the change comes. The trainer made the boxer run. The boxer did not say, “I am a boxer not a runner!” No! He submitted to the directions of the trainer. The boxer was forced to run to tell the trainer how much stamina that he had. The trainer is more concerned with “heart” than with brawn. If a man has “heart” the brawn is of little matter.

-There must be something real about life. There must be something real about your life, your ministry, your church. Forget the personal agendas, leave off the lying, never sink to dishonesty. Seek God for the change.

-When Simon crossed the threshold, he had his name changed to Peter. The name “Simon” would be used only 3-4 times again.

-The champion will understand that the change will not occur over night. There will be some wearying and taxing moments in your ministry. It oftentimes is the stumbling, doddering steps of men that makes the change. It is the bitter disappointment of defeat that causes change. It is the frustrations of men who are prone to let their moods shape their approach to life and ministry. Somewhere along the way a mood will have to be stared down and you will have to submit to the discipline of training.

-The best thing for a “blue” day is to get out of that bed and go to that office and rebuke the devil and then rebuke yourself and then get on with it!!!!

-It is prayers of repentance over and over that changes us. It is failure that causes men to change.

-Peter you need to work a little harder. You need to do that again. You need to spend some more time with the bag. You need to cinch up your shoes and get in the ring and fight until you cannot stand up. Then you need to do it again tomorrow . . . . and the next day. . . .and the next day. . . .and the next day!!!

-God can see me ten years down the road and with His help, I can change.

4. A Champion will understand that not every fight will be won and that he will not conquer in every battle.

-Peter would be rebuked. He would be corrected. This is often difficult for us to deal with. Some men are so caught up in themselves that it is very hard for them to take correction. But if you are not flexible enough to take correction then you will become so brittle with situations that life will literally break you in two. Bro. Pugh made reference to some men who had “shipwrecked” their ministries and their churches because they could not listen to correction.

-Peter would fail in the Garden with the sword. Peter would fail at the fire. Those failures sent him to a place to weep bitterly. Few weep over their defeats. Most are far too eager to place and cast blame in another direction for their failures. Always remember that it is necessary to have somewhere that you can weep bitterly.

-After the Resurrection, Jesus instructed those who found him, “By the way, go and get Peter. . . .”

-On the water, the call from Jesus was to throw the nets on the other side. Peter had heard that voice before, in fact, he had heard that line before. Never forget that God will always come back to us after the mistake.

-The Lord got the disciples comfortable with the meal and then confronted Peter with his commitment.

5. The Champion will have much to suffer.

-Peter was told that he would get old. He was not told that there would be sufferings along the way to this agedness. He was not informed about the Crosses that he would have to bear.

-God does not always let us in on the sufferings that we will have to bear. He does not tell us about the conflicts that we must endure. He will not tell us about the hurts of life that will come our way.

-For a later time, you ought to look the sufferings of Peter. This is why he could write his epistles to men who were suffering. . . because he knew something about it.

-In Acts 15, he is called Simon again. There will be times in life that the old nature will have to be addressed. This is what makes the daily time of prayer so valuable to us.

-Champions will have to embrace a Cross. Peter came to such a love for the Lord that he demanded to be crucified upside down because he said he was not worthy to die like the Lord.

-Hebrews 12 speaks of a great cloud of witnesses. They are just men who are made perfect. There is a vast difference between just and perfect. But if we will be “just” men then God will turn us into perfect men at that day.

-Peter was a champion going to his last fight. . . . . He won!

I would be true for there are those who trust me.
I would be pure for there are those who care
I would be strong for there is much to suffer
I would be brave for there is much to dare.
I would be friend to all the foe-the friendless
I would be giving and forget he gift
I would be humble for I know my weakness
I would look up - and laugh - and love - and lift.

Notes taken at this seminar. No audio available.

Philip Harrelson

The Public Reading of Scripture

Quite some time ago, I was studying some of the practices of the ancient apostolic church and ran across some of the writings of Justin Ma...